A former Minister of Education, Prof Tunde Adeniran has charged popular Islamic cleric, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi to make details of his meetings with the bandits available to the Federal Government and members of the public.
In an interview with TUNDE THOMAS, Adeniran said the findings from such interactions with bandits should be within the public space so that Nigerians would know why the bandits took up arms against the people.
“We can’t be proffering solutions unless we know the root causes,” Adeniran, Nigeria’s former Ambassador to Germany, noted. “If Gumi makes his findings public, the Nigerian government will know how to respond.”
Adeniran addressed the issue of amnesty for bandits, insisting that while the reasons for the agitation by Niger Delta youths were well known, many Nigerians are unaware of the reasons the bandits are killing and kidnapping Nigerians.
He suggested ways to tackle the unending spate of insecurity in the country, even as he spoke on other national issues. Excerpts:
Renowned Islamic scholar, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi recently canvassed that to tackle insecurity in the North, the Federal Government should grant amnesty to bandits just as it was granted to Niger-Delta militants. What’s your position on that?
First of all, we should not be confusing the two. They are two different things. We knew what caused the Niger-Delta militants to take up arms. They were protesting the destruction of their environment as a result of oil exploration and production. They were also protesting cheating that has been going on in that environment for decades. They were not benefitting sufficiently from oil production that was taking place in their environment. They now took up arms when they realised that they were not being listened to. If you go the Niger-Delta, you will pity the people. The environmental degradation, which is as a result of oil production, has denied the people their source of livelihood – fishing and farming.
But for the bandits and terrorists operating in the North, what is their grouse? Although by meeting them, people should give Gumi a lot of credit. When there is a problem, we must look for a solution, and that’s why we should commend Gumi. He has gone there to meet with the bandits and he has come back. He should release the outcome of his findings to the government. The outcome of his findings should be within the public space so that Nigerians would know why these bandits are taking up arms. We can’t be proffering solutions unless we know the root causes. If Gumi makes his findings public, then the Nigerian government will know how to respond.
And on Gumi’s suggestion that amnesty should be given to bandits, I can’t comment until I have all the details. But we should not compare the Niger-Delta militants with the bandits. They are two different situations. In the case of the Niger-Delta militants, their environment was destroyed as a result of oil exploration, and their means of livelihood, which are fishing and farming, were destroyed. These people now took up arms in protest, and government in its wisdom came up with the amnesty programme, plus other measures designed to bring about peace.
But for the bandits one still needs to find out the reasons for doing what they are doing, and this is why Gumi should make public details of the outcome of his meeting with them.
What’s your take on the present state of insecurity across the country with banditry, kidnappings and Boko Haram attacks on the increase?
It is an unfortunate situation, and it is very sad that lives are no longer safe. The situation calls for sober reflection, and the question one will like to ask is, how did we get here? This is no longer the Nigeria that we used to know. Government must find an urgent solution to the problem. But we can’t leave everything for the government alone to handle. We have to start from the community level. Every community must meet, and devise ways to protect their environment. The Federal Government must also wake up and do the needful; they must take security as the number one priority now. In addition to that, individuals and communities must know, as I stated earlier, that the issue of security is not something that should be left to the government alone.
Government must find out the root causes of the problem, and tackle it with all the seriousness it deserves. I’m not impressed with the way the Federal Government has been handling the situation so far. Government should do more than what is being done now. We should all also wake up to the reality that the security issue has become a big challenge to all of us.
The Senate recently implored the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on security in the country. Are you in support of such a move?
I fully support the call by the Senate. I’ve called for it in the past. I believe that if a state of emergency is declared on security, it will enable all hands to be on deck. If this is done, it will enable the government to get rid of all sources of insecurity. When you have such a situation that we found ourselves in today in the country, where individuals can no longer move about freely, and where lives and property are no longer secure, the best thing to do under such circumstances is to declare a state of emergency in order to restore normalcy.
There is nothing for Nigerians to fear about a state of emergency being declared on security. The only thing to fear is even our own people because anything that they do, very often they do it wrongly. They may turn the state of emergency to something else. Nigerians may abuse it because there are ways we abuse so many other things. However, for us to tackle insecurity successfully, the Federal Government should declare a state of emergency on security now. It is the best thing to do under the present circumstances.
What’s your position on the recent crisis between herdsmen and farmers in the South-West, which has been generating reactions all over the country?
My position on that is very clear. All along, there are some people from different parts of the country who are domiciled in the South-West – the Igala, the Igbo, the Fulani, the Tiv and so forth. These people have been doing their legitimate work. There is nothing wrong with this, as you also have Yoruba living among other people in their own communities across the country. Nigerians have been living together in harmony for decades and this should be allowed to continue.
But where you have some criminal elements causing trouble here and there, then those criminals must be flushed out. They must be got rid of. In getting rid of these criminals, everybody must also come together. We are all Nigerians, and where crime is involved, we must not bring ethnicity into it. Those who are doing legitimate business should be allowed to operate without harassment. We should handle the issue with care. It is not an ethnic thing. It is also not a religious crisis. There are some bandits, there are some terrorists, and there are some criminals that have invaded the Nigerian space. These are the people that the Federal Government, and the Nigerian people, must find ways to deal with.
It is a serious issue that must be handled with care, and many eminent Nigerians have been expressing concern over it. Even the Nobel Laureate, Prof Wole Soyinka recently declared that the crisis might lead to a civil war if not well handled. I share the same view.
What are the best ways to handle the worsening crisis between the two groups?
It is an avoidable crisis. And one of the best ways to resolve it is by establishing ranches across the country? In fact, there have been ranches in the country before now, including here in the South-West. If you go to a place like Ikun and Otun in Ekiti State, you have ranches there. What we need to do is to encourage individuals to go into ranching. It is a good business. Government should also assist those who are into ranching the way they assist other farmers. They should give them support.
This is the 21st century. Why should anybody still be moving about trekking all over the place with cows? It is not right. It is wickedness on the part of our leaders. Why should they allow and tolerate some people to be following cows all over the place? Nomadic grazing should be consigned to the dustbin of history. The ranching business should, however, be a private affair. However, there is nothing wrong if government wants to be involved, especially if they feel they can manage and handle it.
When the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the Premier of the defunct Western Region, he encouraged ranching, along with farm settlements. Government can go into it if they feel they want to supplement whatever individuals are doing. But they should not venture into it wholesale and take it up as if it is the only thing government should do. It should be done primarily as purely private business.
With all these crises here and there, what are your fears for the country?
We have to gear up our leaders in this country from the local to the state, and then to the federal levels to make sure that there is harmony among the Nigerian people. Nigeria is bleeding, and the situation is getting worse by the day. This is not the Nigeria we grew up to know. We used to be our brother’s keepers. We had experience of students going on excursions. They travelled from the South to the North, and from the North to the South. Students travelled through territories where they didn’t know them before, and people gladly welcomed them. Not only that they would entertain them, they would have empathy for them. This is the type of Nigeria we desire again.
What I expect President Muhammadu Buhari to do is to mobilise the entire nation behind him to tackle the security challenge so that everybody will be living together harmoniously to ensure development. When there is development, there will be progress. Buhari should not wait until the situation of things gets out of hand than what we have now. He should have even been more pro-active.
What’s your position on 2023, as well as the debate on rotational presidency?
Right now, I believe what we should be talking about is how to restore peace in the country. If there is no peace and security, who is sure of 2023? We should be talking about peace now. Nigeria should be secured now. We should be more concerned about securing the country rather than talking about 2023.
Then we also need to revisit our constitution before talking about 2023.We need to make it work the way a federal constitution should work. Our present constitution is seriously flawed. This constitution was imposed on us by the military, and there are so many shortcomings there. We need a truly federal constitution that allows competition, one that will not promote tension, and one that will allow the federating units to realise their potential. What we have now is not a constitution of the people. There are so many things wrong with it. If we are serious and determined, nothing prevents us from having this new constitution before 2023. It is feasible if we have the will power to do it.
Many are expressing fears that Nigeria might gradually become a one-party state, as opposition parties are no longer vibrant, and prominent members of the opposition parties are defecting to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). What’s your view on this?
Although people are defecting to the ruling party, my own feeling is that there is no difference between the two major parties – APC and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). The two parties have no ideological focus. The only thing that separate them is the name. People no longer play politics of principle. People are no longer playing politics of conscience. Politics of opportunism has taken over the nation’s political space, and this is dangerous for the nation’s democracy. It would also stifle meaningful development.