By Daniel Kanu
Prof Sheriff Folarin is the head of Department, Political Science and International Relations, Covenant University.
A highly cerebral scholar, researcher, activist and writer of international repute who has won many awards in academics, including the US Commanding General’s Award for Excellence, Fort Jackson, South Carolina, lecturer of the year, Covenant University (2007), 2014 Carnegie African Diaspora Fellowship Host-Scholar, best graduating student in History award (University of Ibadan 1997), Oba Lipede Prize in History for Best undergraduate (1994).
In this exclusive interview with Sunday Sun, he spoke on the Nigerian condition, dialogue with bandits, herders menace, and why it has taken dangerous dimension, and solution to leadership failure, among other national issues. Excerpt:
How would you react to this latest development of negotiation with bandits? Is it worth-encouraging?
Not at all, rather it is something that should be totally discouraged. It doesn’t help the state in terms of its ability to hold on to that monopoly of the use of violence. It compromises the state’s capacity to stem the tide because as one negotiates and gets settled so will other groups also emerge to also seek the same avenue for financial lifelines. The thing is, the moment the government condescends to the level of negotiating with bandits or terrorists or other criminal gangs, the government is allowing for the multiplication of criminal gangs because you will recall that when kidnapping started some years back it wasn’t phenomenal, it was something that was seen as, well, it will soon phase out, but because it got to a point that ransoms and all of that was being paid, even the government began to pay ransom as security officers that were kidnapped, their ransom was paid by their outfit etc, so that made more kidnap gangs emerge and it became a booming trade, so much that a lot of tycoons emerged as kidnap tycoons. They were the ones who were the merchants of the trade and we now have apprentices to these tycoons, we now had syndicates in such a way that we have apprentices that will learn how the kidnap trade works and how they could also go to other parts of the country and start their own kidnap activity. So, it’s not a good thing for a government to succumb to such bait. The government should be the last resort and should never allow that to happen. In fact, the government should arrest the development and never allow such a thing to happen in the first place. It is sad that we also aid and abet from within ourselves, within our communities, we keep bandits among ourselves, we cover them up.
But the argument of the government is that since it is to save life…?
(Cuts in) No, if it is just to save life as I have argued elsewhere, we are 200 million people and if the government negotiates with one gang I could also start mine and then the government will also negotiate with me and then I am making my billions, another person will start his own and the government will negotiate and before you know it you are encouraging banditry. Bandits are not people you negotiate with, they are people you clear off the system. Even when the government was negotiating with terrorists we were saying they should not do it, but everyone now justifies the fact that even superpowers do negotiate with terrorists, but they do that behind the scene, no one knows when they do it, but you just hear that they have secured the release of this and that and we have seen some that are advertised on television where you see an exchange or swapping of prisoners, getting captives of terrorists released so that you can do some kind of concessions and all that, but then it is bad because you are enabling and energizing the terrorists and they become stronger, they get more resources and they come back for you. Now, it is understandable those are terrorists, their motives are still not clear on what they want, but for banditry, we know what they want; these are common criminals and when the government begins to sit down with criminals, with bandits, then it is as good as we have lost our state, we don’t have a state anymore because what a state means is simple. It is that institution that has the legitimacy of the monopoly of the use of force. So, if the state loses that legitimacy, that monopoly then the state is gone. Then we will have a natural state: a state of nature like the Hobbesian state where life is short, nasty, and brutish. So, it is despicable for government to go that low. Look we have other criminal gangs, these bandits are succeeding in the North, it will get to a point that armed robbers will want you to sit down with them to negotiate to stop robbing. Of course, we do know that the police know these armed robbers etc, but that does not worry us as long as we are safe. That word “Government” is too big, that is supposed to be the state itself, so when a government begins to sit down with common criminals they lose the battle. Armed robbers are also bandits, what the bandits are doing is not different from what armed robbers are doing. The only difference is that one is stealing human beings, the other one is stealing money or materials, property and all of that, but the end is to get money, they sell either car or anything to get money in return. If people are stolen by bandits, it is to also turned into money because they don’t eat those people, they are not going to eat their flesh, but still to make money, so both are banditry and should not be encouraged by any means. It is condemnable for the government to negotiate with bandits; you simply ensure you round them up and clear the entire network. I am beginning to feel that there are some persons in the government that are making or ekeing out a very good living from this banditry because if it’s not, why should the government even think about it? It is either the government has lost totally in terms of having control over the state or the government is complicit in the act of banditry the same way we suspect that government is complicit in the act of terrorism. The government is giving us room to have all sorts of suspicions, speculations, and guesswork and that is not good for the image of the state.
Experts have complained about the failure of leadership in Nigeria and one may ask how we can correct it in terms of leadership recruitment that will live up to expectation?
I was asked this same question two weeks ago by an international media organisation concerning leaders that can change the tide of things and I will give you that same response I gave to them. When you talk about leadership, we all are part of the leadership because we get the kind of leadership that we deserve, we get the kind of leadership that we put forward. You will not have dumb leadership if we did not empower dumb leadership. You will not get a weak leadership or a very cruel leadership if we did not empower a cruel leadership. What I am saying is that we are the leadership factory. We make our leaders.
But in Nigeria, a lot of sentiments are attached ranging from ethnic, religious, and other attachments…?
(Cuts in) That is a major problem because you are likely to turn a blind eye to such a person and when another person is involved you now become objective on the issues. We have leaders who are not performing and because they belong to our religion, or ethnic region, etc we tend to not hold them accountable as we either keep quiet or praise-sing their name even when we know they are disasters in office. It is a very horrible thing. How do we tackle this? We need to have a change of mentality or disposition towards such an attitude. We should not make ethnicity, section, or religion wear that tag whenever we are taking major decisions about our fate, our destiny, our political future, or our social existence. It is very important for us to do without these unnecessary sentiments because it has not helped us from 1960.
Let’s look at the issue of Fulani herders and their clash with farmers, what do you think is the permanent solution?
We need a change of leadership because what we had with its major disturbance was Boko Haram terrorism, but when we now had a change of leadership in 2015, steadily, we began to have Fulani herdsmen rearing their heads. If you remember before 2015, we didn’t have herders/farmers crisis. If you recall the ones we used to have was in the North-central particularly in Tiv land where the Tiv farmers and the Fulani herders will always clash. They have had clashes as far back as 1967, 68, 69, when we had the Tiv/Fulani riot and that was a very serious one. It was something that was an isolated case, it wasn’t a national issue as such. But you will see that from 2015 up to date, we now had Fulani’s becoming very emboldened by the fact that they had a Northerner, a Fulani man who is the president. He is not the first Fulani man that will be president of Nigeria. We have had President Shehu Shagari, Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, we even had a Vice President, Atiku Abubakar who was a Fulani, we never had this kind of sickening situation. But because of the fact that when they tried it in some parts of the North-central the government did nothing about it. When it happened in 1958, 1959 the government did something about it. The government then was very forceful about the entire thing and refused to tolerate it or give it a chance to thrive. When we had the crisis between the Jukun and the Tiv in 2003/2004, the government was very forceful, very decisive about the whole issue, but when the Fulani’s raided some places in Benue State and also tried a few other places in the North-central, the government did nothing, rather the government looked away from it and so that emboldened them. They did it again and the government still did nothing about it, so they just thought that, well our president is giving us a signal. You know the president has also come out to say, let’s take it easy with them, let’s give them a plan, let’s have RUGA, etc, so the government is indirectly saying; Oh boys, I am behind you, stand back and stand by. That is why you see that the Fulanis are everywhere, very emboldened, that is why the issue between herders and farmers got plummeted, going out of hand. You see that in the Southwest and Southeast there is some resistance, but how responsible are the governors in the Southwest and Southeast? Not too responsible, some because of party affiliation, some because of wanting to patronize the government at the centre they tend not to be decisive about it. Maybe one or two governors in the Southwast have actually shown that tenacity. In the Southeast, one or two have also shown tenacity, the rest are compromising it and that is where the problem lies. That is why you see that the problem is crystallizing and then it is reaching a crescendo in such a way that it is really going to explode. The solution is to have a decentralized police system. I am not an advocate of state police, I am an advocate of community policing because that is where the problem lies.