Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
In this interview, Patron of Yoruba Community in Benue State, Asiwaju Isaac Akinkunmi has expressed the assurance that the nation can win the war against insurgency if all Nigerians are determined to wipe out the menace. The Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Tito Group of Companies also spoke on other burning national issues.
Do you think Nigeria can win the war against insurgency?
Yes, Nigeria can win the war but it needs the cooperation of everybody. This kind of thing will scarcely happen in places like America. You know why? Everybody is busy. In America, in Europe, nobody has time for you because everybody is busy going about their daily bread. But we have too many idle hands in Nigeria and here lies the problem. How many percentage of our youths wake up in the morning to face one area of human endeavor or the other especially in the North East? You find a lot of young people unemployed, untrained, unschooled. So, whenever there is this kind of criminal recruitment, they are easily drafted because they have nothing to lose. They don’t wake up in the morning to go to any place of work, so, that’s the work they find doing. So, for us to be able to win the war, it’s not a day’s job. It must be fought on two grounds; first, fighting the insurgencies and secondly, ensuring that the young ones are trained and gainfully employed. The idle mind they say, is the devil’s workshop. When a person is idle, of course, he has to be engaged doing something and most times, something negative.
Recently, the Federal Government announced the withdrawal of military troops from volatile spots where insecurity had held sway for sometime. Do you think withdrawal is the right thing to do at this time considering the level of insecurity across the country.
People have said so much about this topic. But for me, I think withdrawing troops at this time when the problem that brought about deploying the troops in the first place is still there is like an athlete taking the victory lap before the race is won. Because what they want to present to Nigerians is that peace has returned to those areas. But definitely as we are all aware, peace is yet to return to Maiduguri, Yobe, Benue, Plateau, Zamfara and many other parts of the country. In fact, as soon as these troops are withdrawn, Boko Haram and other bandits are just watching what is going to happen and they will take over, and this time around, it will be very difficult to push them back. So, I appeal to the Federal Government to have a rethink about withdrawing the troops. Also, if you want to withdraw the troops, it shouldn’t be a topic for public consumption. It’s just like saying, Boko Haram, we are withdrawing our troops, so, you can now come around. That’s what you are saying. If the troops must be withdrawn, it must be done quietly in such a way that these insurgents would not be aware that these troops are no longer there. And the way we look at it anyways, the police is still under-equipped to tackle the question of insurgency. You know, these insurgents are well trained. Some of them are ex military men and so on and they are well equipped and they have intelligence. So, we have not equipped our police to the point that they can conveniently confront insurgents. Our police are trained to shoot and arrest while these insurgents are trained to shoot to kill. Even up till a few days ago, the Air Force was still bombarding certain areas in the North East. So, the battle is yet to be won. Therefore, it is premature to withdraw the troops. Before you withdraw the troops, there must be something in place to combat the kind of violent crimes that we have now. We agree that the police deals with internal security but are they equipped enough, are they well trained to face the type of internal insecurity that we now have? To be fair to them, the kind of insecurity we have now is what our police were not trained for. Nobody ever knew that some people would arise within us, carry guns and kill at will. What we knew some 20 years ago is that the military and the police have monopoly of handling weapons. But now, weapons are in the hands of everybody.
President Buhari, while trying to explain why troops had to be gradually withdrawn from across the country, said Nigeria is not at war. With all the violent crimes that are happening all around us -armed banditry, kidnapping, insurgencies, farmers/herders clashes, communal clashes, ritual killings and the rest of them, can we still say that Nigeria is not at war?
It depends on the President’s definition of war. But if a group of people put themselves together and are attacking Nigerians massively, what else is war? That’s the most dangerous type of war you know. In external wars, you confront your enemies maybe at the borders and so on. But this war we are fighting right now is with people who live amongst us. We don’t know who is who. And that is why it’s a very difficult war to win. That’s why the government cannot be blamed for what is happening because even right within the military, they have informants. Or how do you explain when the military plans to go somewhere and on the way, they’re ambushed? So, this is the problem we are having. It’s a war that has to be fought for a long time until all the remnants are completely obliterated. But as it is now, the danger is still clear and visible.
What is your take on the recent free visa policy of the Federal Government?
To be frank, I have not carefully looked at the implications. It’s called visa on arrival. I wouldn’t know whether it’s everybody coming in that would be given this visa. My perception of the visa on arrival policy is that it exists via the air. If you’re coming from America or Europe, and you don’t have the visa, you could obtain visa at the airport. But if in our borders we accept visa on arrival, that means some people will not be denied visa. As you’re arriving, you’ll only need to pay for the visa and you’re allowed to come in. It really does not make much sense since we have embassies in these neighboring countries. They should go to the embassies, be screened and granted visa in our embassy before they come into the country. So, the visa on arrival for our west African neighbours really does not make much sense.
What’s your reaction to a statement by Miyetti Allah leader, Alhaji Bodejo that the Fulani don’t need visa to enter Nigeria?
That means we don’t have a country. His people can come into your country and go out at will, that means you don’t have a country or a border. Or we have borders only against specific tribes. I was stunned when the governor of Bauchi State also said the whole of Fulani in west Africa are Nigerians. These kinds of unguarded statements really make no sense. There are Yoruba in Benin Republic, Togo, Serra Leone and nobody is saying they’re Nigerians. There are Tiv people in Cameroon, there are Ibibio people in Cameroon and they’re not Nigerians. So, do we leave our borders open simply because we speak the same language? What it means is that if we leave the borders open and accept that all Fulani in west Africa are Nigerians and they can come into Nigeria at will, then the whole of Nigeria will turn to a grazing ground and that means we don’t have country. You only have a country when you can control your borders. So, I think such unguarded statement is not going to take us anywhere.
As one who has traveled wide, are you saying Nigeria is not ripe for the visa on arrival policy?
What advantage is visa on arrival for a man who is bringing in smuggled goods across the border to your country? What advantage is the visa on arrival? Countries that issue visa on arrival do that to encourage tourism. Now, you want people to visit Nigeria but you have not developed our toursism sector to that level. But without visa, our borders are porous. All we are saying is that we want to legalise the stay of illegal immigrants that are already in the country. That’s what it means and it really makes no sense.
What’s your reaction to the planned renovation of the National Assembly with a whooping N37 billion? Is that economically viable?
I have travelled all over the world. I have read a lot about other countries and how governments are run and how public funds are spent. I have never seen a country with so much capacity for waste tags like Nigeria. It still baffles me till today that even the President could concede and support expending N37 billion on the renovation of a structure to be enjoyed by only an infinitesimal percentage of Nigerians. What would they be there to debate? But when I saw the President concede amid the war against corruption, the only thing I concluded was that the president is agreeing to that as a Favour in order to get his bills easily passed in the National Assembly and that is not good for the nation. Just N29 billion was earmarked for road maintenance by the Federal Road Maintenance Agency that has been scrapped or about to be scrapped. Which one benefits Nigerians more? Is renovation of the National Assembly the best way to expend N37 billion? You know your salary and I know my income. Even the senators that I would regard as earning almost free money will not spend their earnings without weighing the cost and benefits. Have we weighed the cost and benefits of spending N37 billion on the renovation of the National Assembly? Do you know that if you’re traveling from Saminaka in Kaduna State to Jos, between Saminaka and Jinger, the journey should not take you more than 30 minutes but you would end up spending two hours because of bad road. Nigeria is disjointed, no roads. I was shocked when the Minister of Works said Nigerian roads are not as bad, I didn’t believe him. And he’s a man I respected so much but I feel that maybe it’s because he hasn’t been traveling on Nigerian roads. I gave a lot of respect for him but for that statement to come from him just shows how uninformed most of our leaders are. He needs to travel from Benue through Ankpa to Kogi, a state with a distance of 110kilometers will take you four hours instead of one hour. Look at the road from Ayingba through Itobe through the Niger Bridge to Ajaokuta to Okene. That road is just one hour drive but is going to take you three hours. And so, armed robbers, kidnappers lay siege on roads like that. Get to Kabba and you want go to Kwara State. The straight road is from Kabba through Mopa through Egbe to Ilorin. This road is impassible. You now spend five hours for a distance that should normally take about two hours on that road. And that’s if you’re lucky to get through without being kidnapped. If you’re dodging going through aka and you decide to go through Ekiti, that is a round about journey and the road is equally impassible. So, there’s no road in Nigeria. I am from Oyo State but I live in Benue. If I want to go to my hometown in Ogbomosho now, I will first go by road to Abuja, then I go by air from Abuja to Ilorin just to dodge all the bad roads. That is because I can afford it. But you know what? That does not solve the problem. In a nutshell, I ask how can we be talking of spending N37 billion on a single structure when we don’t have roads in Nigeria?
So, what is the way out of this quagmire?
The solution is that our policy makers should get priorities right. I want to appeal to the president not to succumb to pressures from the National Assembly. I believe in him and I believe he means good for Nigeria but he should not allow his good intentions be derailed by people who are selfish. I believe he himself approved the N37 billion to be spent on the National Assembly but he wants perhaps the N29 billion loan to be approved. If that is the best for the country, I believe the National Assembly will consent to that without him succumbing to unreasonable demand.