Nigeria’s foremost Islamic scholar, Sheikh Abubakar Ahmad Gumi recently called on the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari to grant amnesty for the bandits the same way Nigerian government granted amnesty to Niger Delta militants who, some years ago, were involved in a sort of insurrection against their fatherland. The cleric, who strongly believes that this is the only way to go to get the bandits to drop their arms, warned that application of brute force alone by members of Nigerian Armed Forces, will not be able to subdue them.
“The Federal government should give them blanket amnesty, then if somebody continues, then we will deal with them,” he said in an interview with Channels Television, while giving account of his meeting with the bandits. That is, after their recent abduction of scores of students from the Government Science College, Kagara, Rafi Local Government Area, Niger State. Nigeria Governors’ Forum, going by newspapers reports within the week, is said to be mulling the idea of discussing with the bandits. “We may have to engage in dialogue besides security agencies’ efforts,” Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Chairman of the Forum, said.
Tufiakwa! (God Forbid), says Prof. ABC Nwosu, Nigeria’s ex-Minister of Health and Political Adviser to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, Nigeria’s former President. In an interview with VINCENT KALU, he warned that doing so is tantamount to rewarding and encouraging criminality. He spoke on this and other national issues and warned that we are approaching another civil war. Excerpts:
Sheikh Gumi is asking for amnesty to be granted to the bandits like it was granted the Niger Delta militants, for peace to reign. Are you in support of that proposal?
Sheikh Gumi is saying the most asinine thing I have heard: that a criminal should be given amnesty. I even heard how herdsmen and others have been treated. I’m a victim of the civil war. I told you that nobody before that civil war talked about how to help Eastern Region with its internally displaced persons and since after the civil war, have you heard anybody talk about amnesty and compensations even in spite of the Three Rs? My take on why I say it is the most asinine thing I ever heard is that all he is saying is, if you become a criminal tomorrow, he will preach to government to grant you amnesty and be paying you salary and send you overseas for training, whether you can read and write or not. For goodness sake, these people are not freedom fighters; they are criminals.
The difference between them and Niger Delta militants is so clear that nobody should be told about it. When IPOB (Indigenous People of Biafra) protested, you proscribed them, called them terrorists. I don’t know what bandits is if they are not terrorists. I don’t know what Sheikh Gumi would say if we got up and started protesting and asking for amnesty for IPOB. IPOB is as proscribed as even Boko Haram, which was admitted through the backdoor using the safe corridor concept. There are so many inconsistencies in Nigerian policies and attitudes to criminals and criminality when it occurs depending on who is involved. That is not how to run a country and be at peace.
With the way people are defecting from PDP to APC, does it not worry you? Are you sure your party will survive 2023?
I’m not only sure, I’m certain. I’m in PDP out of conviction. I was there in the founding of the party and I know it is a party founded on principles, not an agglomeration of people to collect power and now the power is choking them. In PDP, the first principle is, let all the political parties unite so that the military will not use our disunity as entry point, so that we can have democracy completely entrenched in Nigeria. Whether you like it or not, since 1999, democracy has been unbroken; it has not been threatened. The second thing agreed on was that power must shift to the South. Power doesn’t have one house in Nigeria; power must shift to the South. It was in that process that a sub-argument came up on June 12; that’s why it shifted to the South-West. That was the second pillar. The third pillar was that we should have a private sector-driven economy and whether you like it or not, it led to the emergence of people like Dangote. He wasn’t there before; he is not putting the money into his bulging pocket; he is into cement, doing his wonders in Lekki. We have now a carrier called Globacom from Adenuga. We thought if we privatised it would make much difference. Our privatisation didn’t yield the kind of result we wanted. We thought it would yield employment, greater efficiency for things like Ajaokuta by getting them to work. We failed in some, but there were principles.
What has happened is that people who were not there when the party was founded on principles and those who funded them like Ekwueme who led it, Chiroma, Isa Kaita under which committee I served, are dying. When they die, the younger people come and sometimes might not really be fully apprised of the founding principles. Then the party starts stuttering.
The party will recover completely. If it recovered after 2015 to a point where in 2019, the presidency had to be settled in the Supreme Court, then you know it will bounce back. PDP was completely mauled, almost near death in 2015, but it has now resurfaced where you have the large number of governors that it has now; this shows that it has resilience. I’m definitely certain that it will recover. There may be some touchups, but it will recover. What happens in 2023 to the presidency, what each party does with regard to 2023 presidency will determine how far it goes and how far it doesn’t go.
So, for the PDP, the decision it makes in respect of 2023 will determine its survival?
It is the same for the APC. You will see such a movement; such a flux that you haven’t seen when for example, APC decides that it loves presidency so much that after eight years, it will still keep it in the same place. I know if it does that all the people from my geo-political zone who still remain in APC that has taken that firm decision will be treated as saboteurs. I know that if PDP decides that some people are so strong that they must be given presidency, those who agreed to that will be treated the same manner that Igbo treated saboteurs during Biafra.
Nigeria is being stretched to a breaking point, what is the reason for this?
It is because of the leadership. When the leader turns to a Nigerian leader, then every Nigerian will have a sense of belonging and can identify with this Nigerian leader. When a leader becomes a sectional leader, there is tension, great tension; there is disequilibrium because all the others will try to assert that they are also Nigerians. Nigeria that works for one set of people must also work for another set of people. That is the reason. When you have some people armed in a nation and others disarmed in a nation, you are sowing the seeds of tension and the human spirit can only take so much. That is the issue. That sentence: ‘I belong to everybody, I belong to nobody’ is the most important statement ever made by the President and that was what made everybody relaxed. But that has proved, like everything in Nigeria, not to be true. ‘We the people’ constitution is not true; ‘Federal’ Republic of Nigeria is not true. So the sum of all these is tension and disequilibrium.
Where do we go from here, how can the tension be doused?
We pray that it can be solved because people can pass a point of no return. We pray it can be solved. Nigeria can be a great country. But it will be a great country when what works for the Igbo works for the Fulani, the Ijaw, Yoruba, Nupe, Tiv, Ibibio and for everybody. There is no senior Nigerian and junior Nigerian and there can never be. I was old enough when the civil war was fought and I know what led to it. I was old enough to join the Biafran Army and be given a command and I know we are approaching the situation. When people say the war was caused by the January 15 coup and thereafter counter-coup on July, they are ignorant. Achebe said if this were the only things, it would have taken horrendous tit-for- tat; it wasn’t what led to it. What led to it was the pogrom in which a Nigerian citizen could wake up one morning and thought he could kill a fellow Nigerian citizen and nothing would happen. The coups were about the army and the revenge. As it was then, citizens can now wake up and decide to kill citizens and then you call them bandits, herdsmen and whatever. It doesn’t happen in any nation. In 1967, everyone thought it could be patched and the last attempt to patch it was at Aburi. If Aburi had been implemented; if good faith had been shown on Aburi, there would have been no civil war. Every Igbo man knows that; it is the non-Igbos that tell their fairy tales about Ojukwu and how he made up his mind to secede.
I was the Director, Planning and Strategy for University of Biafra Student Union with our President General, the late Prof Emeka Enejere. So, we know exactly what caused the war. The Igbo didn’t mind that nobody helped them with their internally displaced persons. All they wanted was good faith on Aburi and when that was denied, the breaking point was reached. Why it was denied was that the other people felt: ‘what can they do; they had no arms, even with our hands tied behind, we would beat them.’ The same attitude has started showing up now. What can unarmed people do against AK-47-weilding people? When a breaking point is passed, you will see AK-47 people running for their lives and people should realise it and stop it. We are all Nigerians, there is no senior Nigerian and there is no junior Nigerian and no Nigerian will like to be a slave in his country.
Many people are calling for restructuring as panacea for peace and development; some are even talking of returning to Aburi Accord. Where do you stand on this?
With 1967 Aburi Accord, everybody returned very happy; Ojukwu returned very happy and the East was calm. Anybody old enough to remember the war will tell you that Biafra went to war and Biafra’s war song was ‘On Aburi we stand’, while Nigeria went to war on ‘To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be done.’ But the unity must be unity agreed upon by all people: it cannot be unity of Jonah and the Whale because Jonah was in the belly of the Whale. So, it was on “Aburi we stand” that Biafra went to war and defended itself. Biafra didn’t wake up one morning and decided to secede. I had hinted once that we are doing a definitive book on Biafra and it will be out by next year unfailingly. I’m not saying that if Aburi had been implemented, I’m saying that if good faith was shown on Aburi there would have been no civil war in 1967. We know that. If you put restructuring first and presidency going to South-East, we will choose restructuring. In fact, what are you going to do there as President in a non-restructured Nigeria? If there is no restructuring, Nigeria will not develop. The North will not develop; the South will not develop. The North will be affected more. There is a mentality that, ‘I’m cheating this person or this person is cheating me.’ Restructuring is that the structure we have is not working; let us get a structure that will work. It is as simple as that. The system we are operating is not working; let’s redesign that system. When there is a system failure, you can’t keep on going on that system because you are guaranteed failure, no matter how. Some people argue that the main problem is leadership. I don’t agree. If you devolve power, thank goodness as El-Rufai has said. He is a very intelligent man. If you devolve power, the bad leadership will be restricted to your geo-political zone. If we have South-East geopolitical zone and we decide to elect scallywags, we would have a scallywag government. But if we decide not to elect scallywags, our police will work; we can give ourselves even the railway you have denied us; you restrict the poor leadership to the zone. I don’t think it is leadership. It is restructuring, and restructuring until we run out of everything to be restructured. I don’t think we can avoid it. Anybody who is benefitting from the present system and thinks he can keep it forever is deluding himself. The Igbo proverb says, ‘if you are the tallest person in a crowd and you hold the object with which everybody is attacking you, and you hold it so high that nobody’s hand can reach your own because you are by far the tallest, but after awhile, muscle fatigue will set in and your hand cannot remain up all the time. It will come down and others will have access to it.
You are talking about restructuring. But why didn’t it come up in the 16 years that PDP was in power?
I’m sure you will remember that my first appointment on May 29, 1999 was Political Adviser to then President Olusegun Obasanjo. We didn’t see the constitution until that morning. My advice to the President was for us to look at the constitution; that, anyhow the constitution came, it was to be accepted so long as there was civilian rule. We salute Abdulsalam Abubakar for not giving any reason to extend the military rule. The first action I took was to set up a committee with the approval of Mr. President to look at that 1999 Constitution. In order to make it a non-PDP affair, I recommended and he approved Ambassador Yusuf Mamman, then national chairman of AD, as the chairman of that committee. From PDP, I recommended Chief Ume Ezeoke and then others members from all the other parties. The reports were there. As usual, everybody was saying since the National Assembly has been proclaimed; let us leave it to them. It wasn’t done by the NASS. It has still not been done by them and it will never be done by the National Assembly.
When Jonathan was there in 2014, if he had waited for the NASS, he would never have set up the 2014 National Conference. I attended the Abacha Conference, which was boycotted by the South-West, even though some people like Bode Olajumoke and few others were there. The East attended in full force with Alex Ekwueme, Odumegwu Ojukwu, Sam Mbakwe, etc. I was in charge of the Igbo secretariat that serviced the all star Igbo delegation that proposed rotational presidency, proposed six geo-political zones, supported in full force resource control, supported even the regimentalisation of the Nigerian Army. The constitution, as promised by the decree that set up that conference, was produced by Justice Karibi Whyte. I have a copy of the report and a copy of that constitution. That constitution, I have forgotten the Article, says, ‘presidency shall rotate between the North and the South’ it’s a very short sentence, no ambiguity. It wasn’t proclaimed before Abacha died and then we got the 1999. The key thing on what we did in the National confab is that we agreed on 70 – 30 percent ratio. Every normal agreement is two thirds, but we agreed on 70 – 30 percent. As it happened all the recommendations were unanimous by the largest congregations of Nigerians from youths, professionals to every union, and yet it is not implemented. Jonathan should have implemented it, but he couldn’t.