By Chukwudi Nweje
Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). In this interview, he speaks about the raging insecurity in the country and warns against turning it into an ethnic conflict. He says non-state actors are trying to protect their people because the government has failed in its duty.
Threats to the security of lives and property, especially those emanating from the herdsmen have been a major cause of concern. The impression now is that President Muhammadu Buhari by his actions and inactions is complicit in the matter, what do you think?
Without underplaying the dire situation and plight of the victims, my major worry is that if the situation is not nipped in the bud, it will not end well. The general complaint in the country today is Fulani herdsmen and if this is built into mass consciousness, it will make most ordinary folks think that their problem is the Fulani. That kind of mentality will not end well because it could lead to a situation whereby people will wake up one day and start killing Fulani when it is just some rogue elements that commit these acts; that is what I’m worried about. I know that the president of the Miyetti Allah doesn’t speak for the entire Fulani. We have to avoid the kind of scenario that played out in Rwanda, where there was mass hysteria against one ethnic group. I don’t want such to happen in Nigeria. The problem is not the Fulani per se, but the current government that has folded its arms and refused to act. Even when it makes any intervention, it gives the impression that it is the one fuelling the crisis. People feel helpless and believe they need to defend themselves because the law enforcement agencies are not up to the task or not bothered about the atrocities going on, whether deliberately by government policy or underestimation of the crisis.
There are concerns in some quarters that it could lead to another civil war?
If anything bad happens or develops from this situation, the government should be blamed because of the ignoble role the current government has played in it. Since these things have been happening, how many people have been prosecuted? The spate of government’s action is insignificant compared to the rate at which these things happen. The idea of some groups coming out to threaten the rest others does not hold well for the country, but I will still appeal to Nigerians to see this as a dire security situation that has to be addressed. And, it is the government that has to address it and ensure that it does not turn into a war of citizens against citizens or one tribe against another which can lead to a pogrom. If we have a responsible government, it should be concerned and come out now to address the problem.
What should the government do that it failed to do?
The first thing is for the government to stop talking recklessly. Even if the security architecture as it is presently is unable to address the situation, at least the government should be mindful of its utterances. The way President Buhari’s spokespersons talk and the interventions they make should be such that it will promote unity and give the different sections of the country a sense of belonging and not the impression that government is encouraging or turning a blind eye to what is happening. Whenever these men talk, they appear to be blaming the victims and do nothing about the perpetrators. These are what gives the impression that maybe the government is behind what is going on. When people begin to see the government as the enemy or deliberately behind their agony, it is a dangerous situation. Apart from making their intervention nationalistic and not sectional, they should stop blaming the victims and see that there is a problem; they should see that the country is likely to go up in a conflagration if concrete steps are not taken to solve the problem. Gradually, Nigeria as a country is unwinding, and that is how it starts. So, unless the government comes out and asserts itself by demonstrating that it is unbiased and wants a united Nigeria, these things will keep going on, so the government should wake up from its failure. We only have the appearance of government in Nigeria, but in reality, there is no government.
There is this general impression that these insurgents, kidnappers, bandits and by other names they are called are faceless. But, Sheikh Abubakar Gumi met with these bandits in Zamfara, how come it is easy for Gumi to meet them but the Nigerian armed forces cannot locate them?
In addressing these things, we should also appreciate what others have done rather than condemning them. Sunday Igboho, for instance, rose to stand in the gap since the people were helpless and state actors failed to protect them, so why won’t the people in Iparapa where these killings had been going on follow him? In Oyo, people are more likely to listen to Sunday Igboho than Gov Seyi Makinde. Sheikh Gumi, like Igboho, is a non-state actor who has done what he thinks can be his contribution to the situation. I think what Gumi did was try to reason with these bandits, so rather than condemn him, we should appreciate what he did. Some people may think he met with them because he knows them but I don’t believe that. He is a cleric and people come to him for all sorts of things, so he has his sources of information. All these non-state actors are trying in their little way to bring calm to the situation. On why the military was not able to locate the bandits, I think it is either government is behind it or there is no government. I’m inclined to believe that the people we call government in Nigeria are only there to eat and not because of the functions of the office.
Gumi suggested amnesty for bandits, is it a fair assessment to compare the bandits with IPOB and Niger Delta militants?
Sheikh Gumi met with them and said they had grievances, but he has not told us what those grievances are. We all know what the grievances of the Niger Delta militants are; they said the wealth of the country comes from their region and that they are suffering, that their environment is polluted and that there is no development. What are the grievances of the herdsmen? However, Sheikh Gumi met with some people in the forest, he said they are insurgents, not bandits. In other words, they want to overthrow the existing order and replace it with their own. But they are attacking ordinary Nigerians, not government officials. Sheikh Gumi has a lot to explain because before we can address those grievances, we must know what they are. I don’t condemn his efforts but he needs to educate us better.
The immediate-past Service chiefs have been nominated as non-career ambassadors, what do you make of that decision?
It is the president’s prerogative to nominate who he wants. People are reading meanings into it but as far as the president is concerned, those are the best hands available for those positions. Some have said it is to offer them some kind of immunity and protect them from arrest by the International Criminal Court (ICC). I don’t think so because even if you are Head of State, when it comes to crimes against humanity, there is no immunity. It will be dangerous for the immediate-past Service chiefs if they had committed what amounts to be offences under the ICC to accept ambassadorial postings because they can be arrested outside the embassy while they transit. Within Nigeria, they can use the system to protect themselves, but outside, they cannot.
The 2020 report of Transparency International rated Nigeria second most corrupt country in West Africa, what is your reaction?
It is unfortunate because it reflects on all of us as Nigerians. It is easy for some people to see it as a Buhari problem; that it is a disgrace. Of course, it is a disgrace for someone whose mantra was anti-corruption; expectations are that within the six years that he has been in power, things would have improved. It, however, reflects poorly on all of us because some international businesses will not come to Nigeria despite the huge opportunities they see because they don’t want to play in a corrupt environment. As a Nigerian, people will see you as somebody from this kind of environment no matter how honest you think you are. When they say Nigeria is corrupt, it is not Nigeria as a country but the environment; they are saying that things won’t get done unless you part with some money, we should be worried as Nigerians.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the principal anti-corruption agency in the country has not had a substantive head since 2015, how has that reflected on the war against corruption?
The commission has not had a substantive head since Buhari came to power. Ibrahim Magu was acting and the Senate rejected him several times for their and not because the Senate under Bukola Saraki was fighting corruption. Buhari has been unable to appoint anybody into that office in a substantive capacity. He has removed the acting chairman, Magu on suspicion of corruption whether the allegation against him is true or not. I don’t know but he has been replaced with an acting chairman. That tells you what a joke the anti-corruption programme is intended to be. We shouldn’t be surprised that people outside the country who can talk, not those in Nigeria who can’t talk because they are afraid are saying it. We can see the evidence of corruption all around us.