By Daniel Kanu
Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof Itse Sagay has said that the state of the country is nothing to write home about.
In this exclusive chat with Sunday Sun, he speaks on the Nigerian condition, particularly the security challenges and what the government is not doing well, payment of ransom and negotiation with bandits, 2023 politics, among others. Excerpt:
How do you see the consistent security deterioration in the country given the Federal Government’s capacity or otherwise and its claim of sabotage?
I think we all agreed that the security situation is grave, very grave, and the government itself has admitted that and Nigerians have cried out from so many sectors, so many levels and I think the message has gotten home, so let us wait and see what the government is going to do to beef up its response to this invading situation of almost country-wide terror. It is a serious situation and people have expressed themselves universally all over the country, even the government admits that there is a security challenge. So, let’s watch and see whether there is going to be an improvement in the strategies, or tactics or even in the efforts at various attempts by the government to bring it to an end in the next few weeks. Let us see whether there will be an improvement, let’s see if the government will come out with new tactics, new resources, and new strategies. So, let’s wait and see what comes out of the latest promise. The government is aware of the danger, everybody has cried out, everybody is worried, I am worried too, I am not different from others, I am just hoping that we will see a change because of this, almost universal outcry.
What is your take on negotiation with bandits and payment of ransom?
This is something that one has to be very careful about because it is a very difficult situation. The point of not paying a ransom and even not negotiating is a good policy so as not to encourage those bandits, terrorists, etc, to expect more money. As someone puts it in the Radio today: if you keep on paying them there is a time they will even ask the people in the parliament to set some money aside for ransom officially from the budget, if you continue like that but you must balance that also with our humanity for the feeling of the families of the children kidnapped, for instance, you know the state of terror those children will be, the grief the families are thrown into etc. For me, my approach will be that government should maintain its policy of no negotiation, but should assist parents who accepted paying ransom if it becomes necessary quietly without announcing it. This is what America does and some other countries too even without the policy of not negotiating with terrorists, but they still do that underground. But with each such activity government should go after them after the payment and create a situation in which it will be impossible for them in the future to kidnap Nigerians.
Some statesmen in the country, as well as other commentators are saying that unless Nigeria is restructured the country will continue to work in circles without the desired unity and progress?
Most times they confuse us by saying constitutional or political restructuring and I don’t know what is the difference between constitutional and political restructuring. My own idea of restructuring will involve devolving powers from the centre in terms of resources and when I say power I mean transferring certain things (responsibilities) in the Exclusive List to the Concurrent List so that states can do certain responsibilities in the Exclusive List, talking of issues like police, labour, although labour doesn’t agree with that, talking about the removal of local government totally from what it is now. Local government belongs to the state, talking of resources that states can retain their resources and pay a specific amount to the Federal Government to help it run its government and also contribute to a central fund which will be used in helping states that have difficulty relying on their own resources. All these will galvanise states to work hard. When you know that you have to live on your resources you will work hard and, try to be more productive and this will make the whole country, the states more competitive, with each other. There will be healthy competition. They will try to raise the level of productivity and, therefore, the whole country will be richer, the standard of living will be higher. The way things are now is that state resources are currently being controlled at the centre and everybody goes to the centre with a begging bowl at the end of every month and if what you get from there (centre), the major bowl into your begging bowl is enough to keep you going then you have no incentive to work hard, you just sit down share whatever you have within your own state, wait for one month, at the end of the month go back with your bowl to get more without adding any value to the economy. That is what is happening now and that is why it is very important that there should be restructuring, which will involve devolution of powers and capacity to control one’s own resources, so that anybody can have the incentive to work hard and be more productive.
There is this wide-scale agitation from almost every section of the country…?
(Cuts in) There is so much restlessness in the country and I think this insecurity in the land is contributing to it. I personally feel that if the government tackles this insecurity very strongly and then make the country safer for us and also agrees to devolve power, all the agitations will die down and people will be more committed to all of us working together as Nigerians.
How will you react concerning the views by some observers that Nigeria has become a failed state?
That is excessive exaggeration, it is an expression in bad faith and people should not talk like that. Nigeria is not a failed state at all, I don’t agree, those saying such have a private agenda, which they want to execute. They are creating insecurity in our minds and fear so that we begin to be more receptive to dangerous motivations…no, I don’t agree.
Their argument is that the government now lacks monopoly of the coercive force needed to enforce obedience to rule of law…?
(Cuts in) It is part of the worry that we have in terms of what some non-state actors are doing and I think part of the solution will come in allowing state police as you can see how Amotekun is performing in the West, they are doing well. So the government can create a state police, the Federal Government itself will be relieved from some of its responsibilities now and then concentrate more on whatever is left that it should do while states add their own force to the existing one. Yes, we understand the apparent situation of our Armed Forces compared to the terrorists, bandits and Boko Haram etc, who have become very confident, but I believe that the Federal Government has the capacity to cope with it, but they have to rejig its response to the situation. I must say with compassion for the Federal Government that these things started almost suddenly. Previously, Nigeria as a country was dealing with only one or two types of criminal violence, either Boko Haram and kidnapping, but now we have banditry, herdsmen, Boko Haram, other vices and it is as if the entire hell decided to arise at the same time so that the government won’t know how to respond. So, in a sense, I feel a bit sorry for the government, but I agree with those who say that the government needs to be more dynamic in its response, not only that I feel the government should speak out more about what it is doing, I am not saying they should disclose their secrets because at times that can be very dangerous if they say everything that they are doing. There are certain issues about security that you need not disclose because it is your own tactics/ secret to defeating your enemy, but they should give us re-assurance that they have heard the outcry of the country and that steps are being taken and we should begin to see the results within a few weeks, I think that will douse tension and solve the situation.
The Federal Government is alleging that some individuals, politicians, religious leaders, ethnic leaders, etc are working to bring down the Buhari-led APC government. Do you see it as part of what is heightening the insecurity in the land?
I think we just need to be cautious; many people are speaking very loosely. I have listened to some radio and television talks and you can see that many people are talking loosely, and I feel bad when I hear some of the things being said, either instigating the military or instigating communities or religious groups, not just to oppose, but to oppose in a violent way, encouraging a state of conflict with the government. I think there is a lot of some dangerous talks, dangerous expression of views, which normally should not be in this kind of inflammable type of condition that we are having. But I believe government should be more dynamic, I am not satisfied with their level of dynamism. They are not responding fast and we need to see more proactive action, in other words, rather than going about chasing these people, we should rather be pouncing on them wherever they are, in the forests and wherever they live, dealing with them decisively and bringing some out alive so that we will hear their confessions and know exactly where their friends are located, so that more arrests and more government actions will spread and the more effective it will be. What you hear all the time is that they have been demobilized, that we have dealt with them, but not a single person has ever been brought out who can now confess that this is what they do. That is not good enough. When going after them they should try and bring some alive so that we can really get more details to help us plan against future attacks. We need to put more seriousness in the crisis that we face.
There are still some top politicians from the North talking tough that the North should retain the Presidency…?
(Cuts in) Such people do not love Nigeria; they are simply the enemy of this country. If you have contempt for a part of the country it means you don’t love the whole country, so what they are doing is that you are going to create a build-up of resentment on that part which can create instability rather than the peace that we are looking for. There is a need for justice, equity. I think we are in a situation now where everything has to be done to make sure that no part of the country is treated with contempt or made to feel cheated so that we can all cooperate and join hands together in fighting this insecurity as one. Once you create a situation that there is a part of the country that you have no respect for, that you can treat anyhow, that you have been created to come and dominate them then, of course, you are not going to get any cooperation from such people and you will begin to create danger for future peace and stability with the country itself. You make them feel that they have no stake in the future of the country and that is dangerous because you will not get their cooperation and support.