By Ngozi Nwoke
Former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Austin Opara believes that the Nigerian Army has the capacity to stop insurgency if it is committed to the fight against it.
Mr Opara who represented Port Harcourt 2 Constituency and also served as deputy chairman of National Assembly Joint Committee on the Review of the 1999 constitution in this interview, spoke on various issues.
How do you feel about the security situation in Nigeria?
The security situation in Nigeria is a very sad one. And I have always said it that most of the banditry and insurgencies that occur can be avoided if the presidency employs competent and capable security experts. It is true that you cannot completely rule out security challenges in a developed or developing country, but it can be reduced and controlled to a minimal level if adequate measures are taken. Listen, I confidently believe that if the presidency really wants to fight insurgency to a standstill, they can. They have the capacity, but they are not just willing. It is utterly shameful and suspicious that a country as great as Nigeria, a country full of innovative security experts, will suffer insurgency and terrorism for over a decade. It is highly suspicious as a matter of fact. How do you explain that a country with over ten thousand army personnel, armory and jets cannot fight these criminals? It is totally unbelievable and unacceptable. It is only a person who does not know or understand the might and authority in the Nigerian army that will believe that insurgency is not defeatable in Nigeria. It is either there are people benefiting from the insurgency which of course is the speculation of Nigerians or the army is not just willing to fight them. I totally disagree that the Nigerian army is incompetent or incapable to handle the security challenges in the country. It is unacceptable. They have the tactics to deal with the insecurity situation. And if they are not willing, they should be dropped and should allow readily available personnel to come on board and tackle this life-threatening issue once and for all.
Times of London says Nigeria is becoming a failed state. Do you agree?
With the present condition of Nigeria, even the blind can feel that all is not going very well. Let me ask you; are you satisfied with the current situation of this country? Nigeria is suffering from a lot due to the leadership style of the ruling party. When you look at the lack of basic amenities such as adequate security, power supply, job opportunities, infrastructural development, lack of accessible educational system and so on, I have no choice but to agree to a large extent that Nigeria is becoming a failed state as speculated by Times of London.
What is your view on Buhari’s changing of the Service chiefs after much pressure from various quarters?
That decision was long overdue. It was long expected of him to drop his Service chiefs for obvious reasons of incompetence. Retaining the Service chiefs despite the disturbing incidents of killing innocent Nigerians especially in the North, was a case of one being clueless about having an idea of the action to take to manage crisis. How do you explain that you hired some people that claim to be Service chiefs and a country has suffered and is still suffering insurgency since you came into power and you see nothing wrong in still retaining them?
How does it not occur to you to try another strategy by changing the old Service chiefs to get innovative minds?
With the new Service chiefs on board, we will only hope that they will do better than their predecessors in tackling the lingering security challenges which have left many homeless, crippled the nation’s economic system and still threatening the lives of many. We look forward with great optimism to see a Nigeria free of terrorism, banditry, and insurgency.
What is your perception on restructuring Nigeria?
I support and call for a restructured Nigeria before 2023 elections. The restructuring of Nigeria is not a difficult thing to do. It is about devolution of power. It is about changing the policies that we use. For power to be devolved, it must go to the National Assembly, for the National Assembly to act on anything, it must go to the constitution. If it goes to the constitution, it will be stopped halfway because of the structure of the constitution, unless it is amended to destroy the obstacle that will hinder the successful restructuring of Nigeria. At the end of all these, we must have achieved a brand-new amended constitution and a restructured Nigeria. It is either we break the circle, or we continue walking aimlessly around the circle. So, I call for a restructured Nigeria before we can even talk of an election. To amend a constitution, there must be a referendum where you ask for the perception of the people, because a constitution is written by the people, not by the government. The 1999 constitution of Nigeria says, “We the people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”. Whereas, that constitution was not written by the people of Nigeria, it was rather written by the military and handed over to Obasanjo. The 1999 constitution is a false document that gives irregular power that turns it into an authoritarian government. That explains why we are in a democracy yet being governed under an authoritarian leadership. This also explains why you see a president who has refused to allow citizens embark on a peaceful protest that is by law permitted and justified, both nationally and globally.
What is your assessment of Wike’s administration and your expectations for the PDP during the 2023 presidential election?
To assess the Wike-led administration, I like to start by saying that there is no LGA in Rivers State that have not felt the infrastructural impact of this government. The fact that projects are more focused in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor LGAs than other LGAs does not mean there are no infrastructural developments going on in those places. What does this imply? This tells you that the PDP is here to serve the people of Rivers State as promised during their campaigns. The level of developmental strides taking place in the state shows that the state government is not leaving any stone unturned. PDP is doing fantastically well, both in Rivers State and the South-South region.