The Emir of Akko Emirate in Akko Local Government Area (LGA) of Gombe State, Alhaji Umar Muhammad Atiku, has tasked the Federal Government to do put more efforts into ending crime and criminality in the country. According to the royal father, the security situation in Nigeria is worrisome, noting that the country needs all actors to end its suffering.
In an interview with ABDULRAZAQ MUNGADI, the Emir offered tips to curtailing criminality in Africa’s most populous nation.
How would you assess the security situation in Nigeria?
Actually, the insecurity everywhere in the country is very worrisome and the whole country is suffering. If you go to the South-East, what is happening there is very bad. If you go to the South-West, the same thing. The North-East has been bleeding for a very long time, and so is the North-Central. If you go to the North-West, everywhere in the country there is one sad story or the other. Some people attribute this to the general state of the economy, where there is mass unemployment, where the literacy level is fast deteriorating, where there is hunger. Generally, the economy is in very bad shape.
How is the relationship between the various traditional rulers, and how would this help in addressing this issue of security?
We want to thank God for the recent awareness among traditional rulers that there is a need to sort of come together so that a mere fact that our people see us come together and fraternizing will give them a certain confidence that all is well between the leaders, so, there is no reason why all will not be well among our respective people. We have started this for quite some time now and have kept in touch with traditional rulers from South-South, South-East, South-West and all over the country, we invite each other over whenever there is an event or function and we honour such invitations, we appear in our full traditional colours.
As you can see the situation that we are in now, there is a lot of insecurity everywhere, a lot of agitations, breaking away, self-determination and all sorts of big, big challenges. We are believing and we still believe that the antidote to all this is in the hands of the traditional rulers. If we continue to come together, if we continue to fraternise with each other and if we continue to preach to our respective people on the need to be our brothers keepers, I’m very confident that in a very short time all this problems that we are facing will beco0me history. Just recently, we were in Abriba in the South-East, in Abia State where a monarch celebrated his 21st anniversary, his 30th wedding anniversary and he was also called to the Bar. On our way there, we had to pass through Imo. Everyone was happy. We believe this will become indelible in the minds of the people there. So these are things that the country needs now and we are bent on continuing this so that the result will be very positive for our country.
Aside from honouring each other’s invitations,, are there any plans to meet maybe once in a while to discuss issues of national interest?
Yes, we have this in place actually. We have a summit which we hold every year – we call it a development summit of traditional rulers, where each state sends a traditional ruler, we meet in Abuja and we discuss tropical issues. We invite from the academia some individuals to deliver lectures on pertinent issues and the get together allow the creation of bridges between our various traditional communities. You find an Emir from the far north establishing contact with a royal majesty from the South-South or from South-East. The summit didn’t hold this year because of the pandemic, but we intend to hold it early next year (that is in 2022).
The issue of banditry and kidnapping seems to defy solutions. How are the traditional rulers tackling it?
We believe that what is happening is as a result of developments in our societies. Our country is moving forward, we are becoming a more modern society, I think that is a reason for all this banditry coming in with such full force and we know that we have been in poverty for a very long time. We know that illiteracy and extremism has been with us for a long time, but it has never developed into such a deadly force, causing so much pain among the people as it is doing now. And you know you cannot pinpoint and say it is somebody sponsoring this or that. So what is happening is a development within our society, as the society becomes modern, some of these things gets interwoven into the society and it is how the society acts to nip these things in the bud that it will affect the progress or otherwise of the society, as we have seen now. Definitely government has not found a soundproof way to stop the killings, to stop the banditry. We have to find a way to ensure that we identify those responsible and find a sure way of stopping them from continuing all this. You see, in our societies, we have the criminal elements that have become somehow more advanced than the society or the government, so, it is time for the government to take the initiative by becoming advanced also. That is, becoming more technically superior than the bandits and the criminal elements. I think that is the only way because you cannot stop crime at this time. We are at a time when godlessness has overtaken the minds of people, so cruelty will continue. But a responsive and responsible government must find a way to outsmart these criminal elements. Technology must be brought into bare. The government most step up so that if a criminal perpetrates a crime, let it not be more than 24 or 48 hours for the criminal to be apprehended. Let us have a system in place whereby to perpetrate the crime will become very difficult for anybody and this can be achieved through adequate modern technology and through empowering adequately our security agencies and forces by also bringing in the traditional institution, because they have a role to play in all of this. So they should be involved in the process and state governments should try as much as possible to complement efforts of the Federal Government by standing strong. As you are aware, in a traditional setting, from his Royal Highness to the district heads to the village heads, there are already established clear communication channels, and any new face or criminal elements must be known to the traditional rulers. So, that is a reservoir or resources the government need to tap into. Because you need information and people familiar with happenings in the society, so, that you’ll always be a step ahead of the perpetrators of these crimes.
The government has introduced and rolled out several plans, initiatives and even military operations, but insecurity still persists..
To deploy such a thing will require commitment, political will and a lot of funds. For example, if you are to mount some certain surveillance on our roads, communities and forest will require a lot of funds and it is capable of reducing this menace. We know and have heard about places in the outside world where perpetrators of crime are trailed to their hiding place and arrested within few hours after committing the crime. Our government and our country too have the capacity to do such and monitor all our roads 24/7. So, we have to this very quickly because any delay in this will continue to put our people, our communities and the country in harm’s way.
Judging by the severity and prevalence of these challenges, do you think it’s time for a state of emergency on security in the country?
I would say that we are even late in declaring a state of emergency on security. This should have been done, I believe, about 20 years ago in this country. So many things have been happening and the criminals have been getting bolder and bolder by the day. They are amassing more capabilities, and at the end, even the army are finding it difficult to tackle, just like we have seen in Borno and environs. This is because it was not tackled 20 years or so ago. So, the state of emergency is needed and one good thing about remedying an action is that whenever you take it, it will make the necessary impact.
Your Emirate has been relatively peaceful even when communal clashes, protests and some other forms of security breach were being recorded in parts of Gombe. How far you prevented such in your area?
Actually, we run an all-inclusive traditional administration here. We have different tribes in the emirate and we were able to integrate all the tribes into the central traditional administration. We made sure that each tribe has a head and we hold regular meetings with the heads, including the Igbos, Yuroba and all the other tribes that we have here, so in this way we were able to create an understanding among all the tribes.
We communicate to all our people through the various heads. Whenever we had a meeting, the head and leaders of all tribes go back to disseminate the information or resolution to their people with a common understanding. We were able to also integrate all the religious groups in our domain. As we know, these religious groups have a kind of adherence; the leaders have the ability to direct their followers to do what even the government cannot force them to do. So we were able to bring all the heads of the groups together under one umbrella. We meet regularly and we all agree on the common goal of having general peace and harmony.
Our open-door policy and regular engagement with youths have helped a lot, so we have ethnicity and religious harmony here. We also have this pear review mechanism. We also have a kind of respect between the youths and the elders, so that is also being utilised to make sure that we are on the same page with the youths.
Now let’s talk about fuel subsidy, being close to the people, what is your take on the recent issue of fuel subsidy removal?
You know Nigeria is in difficulty. Governments are finding it difficult to pay the cost of governance, so, there is a need for more money from anywhere so that government can be run. There is the issue of security, salaries and all sorts of things that the governments have to do and provide for the people and these cannot be done because they say the money is not there. So, I think that is why you find that among the strategies the government wants to put in place is this subsidy removal, so that we will pay the real cost of everything and also you find out that the people are so used to a make believe sort of life, believing that government will do everything. So, I don’t know. If you support government to remove the subsidy on the other hand, there is the masses who are crying over it. So as a traditional leader, we find it difficult to mediate, but what I think is that there is need for government to keep exploring other sources of revenue. The government should continue to look at other things to drive revenue from, but things that have direct bearing to the poor like the subsidy should be a no-go area for the government. This is due to the economic situation of the common man.
What is your position on the issue of a Muslim/Muslim ticket for the presidency? What would it mean for the country?
Why don’t you ask me about a Christian/Christian ticket? For me, there is no big deal about that really. It has happened in Kaduna and the government is running and working, so it can happen anywhere. What we believe is that if you can get good people, people with good heart that can move this our country forward, I think that is the important thing. But if we become sentimental, thinking that it is religion that will guide our modernity or determine the distribution of posts and things like that, I think we are being a bit less realistic that we ought to be. What I believe here is that any two good people, either men or women, Muslims or Christians that can get a ticket and be able to govern well, will be for our benefit.