By Chukwudi Nweje
Former Nigeria’s Ambassador to Zambia and Malawi, Folake Marcus Bello in this interview, discusses the problem of insecurity, the connivance of a ‘Third Hand’ in the crises and why Nigerians must sit at a round table to chart a way forward. The former Ogun State Commissioner for Women Affairs/Social Welfare spoke on various other issues.
What is your perspective on the spate of insecurity across Nigeria?
Insecurity in Nigeria is quite frightening and those of us 60 years and above will remember how this country used to be. My parents had a car but they didn’t have to take me to school, we walked in groups and life was good. We left our windows open and there was no armed robbery. Our parents could go out and leave us in the neighbourhood. Gradually, today, Nigeria is upside down and there is nobody to hold responsible for it. I will not join those who ask whether we have a government? We have a government and a constitution and everything, but is it working? I’m looking for my country; there was a country; now we don’t have a country.
Do you think Nigeria has failed?
Sadly and interestingly you can’t kill a country. Chad, Somalia, Syria and Sudan are still there; you cannot remove a country from the face of the earth, you can only adjust it. The sad thing is that we are busy fighting ourselves; it is Biafra, it is Yoruba nation, it is Arewa and foreigners are infiltrating us and taking advantage and all the treasures God has endowed on us is being pilfered; everything is about my first, my tribe next and my religion after, who is thinking for Nigeria. I’m not saying that if a particular tribe wants to go that they don’t have the right to go. The constitution allows anybody to live in any part of Nigeria. Unfortunately for us, we have created so much hatred among ourselves. There is a third hand in this Nigeria matter. Nigeria is a great nation that has been endowed with everything; we need to sit down and talk about this, find a solution and face our external enemies.
What do you mean by a third hand in Nigeria’s crisis?
There are some other African countries that are as endowed as Nigeria and gradually their thread was removed and a war started. There are disturbances everywhere in Nigeria and if war breaks out, there is nowhere you can empty our 200 million people into? If you empty Nigeria into any other African country, they can’t cope. The insecurity problem is internal and at the same time external. We need to come together to speak the same language, not on social media, not on the pages of newspapers. If we say for example that the Fulani have taken all the prominent positions, who is sitting with them across the table and asking questions? Who is making noise in an organised fashion? The Yoruba nation can go, Biafra can go, I will use the Scottish example; they have just had their referendum, there are ways of doing things.
How do we solve the insecurity problems?
We are not looking at the security problem technically; right now, it is all noise. I’m looking for a structured well-thought-out debate as to how to end this insecurity. How many foreigners covering as Hausa or Fulani have infiltrated this country? I have moved around the markets, I’ve seen shop attendants and people doing all sorts of jobs; I can tell you that most of these people carrying loads are not Nigerians; the border is so porous that anybody can come in, Hausa is spoken in most of West Africa, there are Malians, Chadians, Sudanese, Senegalese, Nigeriens in our beloved Nigeria because we are busy fighting each other. Guns are coming in everywhere; what is our border patrol doing? Hold the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) responsible; why is the Nigerian passport available everywhere? Hold the Nigerian Immigration Service responsible; why is it we can’t quell Boko Haram if at all everything is Boko Haram? Hold the Nigerian army responsible.
What is your take on the separatist agitations across the country?
Yoruba can go, Biafra can go and the Northerners can keep the North but to achieve that, we have to call for a referendum. What Nigerians don’t understand is that no country from outside will come to help us solve our problems; they will only come to take advantage of the loopholes; if we are fighting and they can get a handful of our people to sell our resources to them, so be it; they will even supply more arms and ammunition so that we continue to fight. We need to come together and agree to go our separate ways. If I were the president of Nigeria, I will experiment; I will appeal to the judiciary, administrative and legislative organs to experiment. The experiment will be to allow the Yoruba, the Igbo and the Arewa to separate for four years; let everybody go his way; it will be worse than we have now because we are not grooming successors. They think once we have separate republics everything will be okay; why are the states not working?
As we approach 2023, some people are agitating on the need to restructure before holding the elections; what do you think?
Some people are saying they will not register unless the country is restructured. We have a group called ‘We the Women’ and we encourage everybody to register; I say to them that if they are not there, they can’t contribute; participation is in every sphere; by registering, you are participating, by voting you are participating and by going to persuade other people to register and vote, you are participating; you don’t participate only when you are in elective or appointive position. Every Nigerian should participate on daily basis. We can’t keep saying the votes don’t count because one day, it will count. So, we must get our voters card, hold unto it and watch. If we are to vote today, based on what has been going on and what we see in the news, my village is filled with a certain tribe; these things have security implications because most of them are not Nigerians; there is a need to do something about it.
From Giant of Africa, Nigeria has been rated the third-worst governed country by the Chandler Good Governance Index (CGCI) index, how do you see that?
I don’t think Nigeria is governed at all; we are all individual government unto ourselves. We just talked about immigration and how people are trooping into Nigeria; the people at the border are only interested in what they will get, so they just turn around and lets people in whether they are armed or not, there is no social system; when the civil servant retires from service, he does not get his pension on time; everybody is only thinking about me, me, me.
What are the major issues inhibiting women participation in politics?
The first obstacle is our culture; wherever you look, whether it is among the Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Ibibio, it is there. Culturally, they believe that a woman should be seen and not heard; secondly, seeking an elective position is not cheap; how many women can afford it, even men? It has become a cowboy’s club; the women don’t have access; another thing is that the age at which a woman should be ready, she is worried about her home and children; it is the time at which her children mostly need her; there are also more men in politics and they gang up against us. All of a sudden, whether it is in Muslim, Christianity or other worshippers, the voice of women in politics has completely disappeared and nobody cares; when issues of insecurity spring up, it is women and children that suffer most. I believe that women shouldn’t be given compensatory role, we have the same intellectual endowment as men.