Former Governor of Plateau State, Amb Fidelis Tapgun, has asserted that banditry and kidnapping have continued to thrive because the Federal Government has been treating bandits with kid gloves. Tapgun, a former Nigerian ambassador to Kenya, who said Nigeria needs a strong president that will take tough decisions, said he doubted the sincerity of Islamic cleric, Sheik Gumi who has been involved in negotiations with bandits. In an interview with GYANG BERE, Tapgun said it’s only fair for the presidency to return to the South in 2023.
We recently marked 22 unbroken years of democracy. Do you think Nigeria has anything to celebrate?
Well, democracy itself hasn’t taken root in Nigeria yet. We are struggling for it and I hope one day, we will get it right. The important thing that has happened to us so far is that we have remained united as one country. But democracy has not taken shape yet. We are wobbling, we have been wobbling all along and I pray that one day we will get it right. And until we make up our mind, we will continue to move the way we are moving. As far as I am concerned, political parties in this country are just in name. I know that when we formed the PDP in 1999, it was an ideological party. It was resolved that the people at the grassroots must own the party, so that they decide what happens. They decide who stands for election, they decide who is appointed into positions. If government wants to give appointment to somebody in an area, the governor or the government must go back to the people and ask and that will be done through the political party. That was why, when we went for the first local government elections, when the Military tested the political parties, it was the people themselves that funded the candidates that won elections from the chairmanship to the local government chairmen. And when we were going out to campaign, money didn’t come from outside; people collected money among themselves and organised. That was the beginning, because we said the people must own the party. So if we had continued, I think PDP would have been stable as an ideological party. But after those initial successes by the people themselves, when the government came in, the whole thing tumbled. This is because the governors were no longer going to the party to get people appointed in positions; they selected the people they wanted. The president will come to the governors instead of coming through the party and say give me names of ministers, give me names of board members. The governor then will go and select his friends or relations or his cronies instead of going to the party. That is where we got it wrong completely. And as we move, it is moneybags now that own the party. If you don’t have money, you can’t do anything now in the party and that is not how we started in the PDP.
What will you say Nigeria has gained under the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari?
I don’t want to assess anybody because as far as I am concerned, we have problems in this country. So many things are going wrong. People are suffering. This banditry that is going on is the most terrible thing that has ever happened. Banditry, kidnapping and they go to school now and kidnap students and parents have to pay ransom before their children are freed. This is unimaginable. I can’t give government credit with this type of thing. One day, I believe, God will send somebody to us that will be strong-willed to take tough decisions on certain issues no matter who is involved.
Looking at the APC now, is there any difference between it and PDP?
They are just the same. As far as I am concerned, the parties just exist to take power; that is all. That is what we do in this country. Because the electoral process is faulty, you don’t even elect the correct people to take power. The people are not allowed to elect who they want. The parties in Nigeria don’t have ideology. How can you see a governor elected on the platform of a party moving overnight to another party and he is happy about it? So what kind of political system are we operating? We have a problem with the democracy we are operating and I know that there were some attempts to reform the electoral process. There was a commission that was put in place, which gave a very comprehensive report about the electoral process. That report is still there and if government has the willpower to take it up and implement it, I think it will go a long way in helping the situation. But the most important thing is that we have remained as one country. Our differences are there. We have been managing them and I pray that one day, God will give us a leader that has the will to do what is right under a democracy.
Secession drums are sounding and the sound is very loud in different parts of the country. Do you think Nigeria can overcome this and still remain together?
Yes, it is very loud. But for me, I think it is being used as a bargaining chip. Nobody in his real senses wants to secede in this country today, because Nigeria as it is, is an important country and everybody knows that.
There has been bloodbath across the country – in Benue, Niger, Plateau and recently in Oyo State. How do we stop all these things?
The bloodbath is all over and that is what I am saying: we must have a government that has the will power to enforce certain things. This banditry is not something that government cannot tackle. As far as I am concerned, they have been very reluctant. They have been treating it with kid gloves and I think people got emboldened. Because in some parts, when it earlier started, the government paid money to stop them from doing what they are doing. When you identified them, they should be punished. You should apprehend them and punish them so that others can take a cue. But you’re compensating them with money, I think you are just emboldening them to do more. This thing started like kidnapping, but it has expanded to banditry. And now you have these Fulani herdsmen, you call them whatever you like. They go now ravaging everywhere and nothing is being done seriously to tackle it. But like I said, I have great faith in this country and these challenges will be solved. God will give us leaders that have a strong will to take decisions that will stabilise the polity.
What’s your take about the serial kidnapping of school children in Kaduna, Zamfara and recently in Niger States?
It is all part of treating people with kid gloves. They asked for ransom and you paid. Sheik Gumi said he has spoken to some of the bandits and that they have agreed to release them. They shouldn’t be treated as if they are lawful people. if you know them, apprehend them and treat them according to the law of the land. Everybody will see it and others will be careful and they will be afraid to do whatever they want to do.
You mentioned Sheik Gumi. What role do you think he’s playing in tackling this menace?
I don’t understand the role he is playing. I don’t understand it really. Because today, you hear him abusing government about it. Tomorrow, you hear him talking to the bandits. The next day, you hear him advising government on what to do. I don’t know the role he is playing. He is not straight, as far as I am concerned. If he is intervening on behalf of government, he should do it dispassionately. Somewhere, he will talk about bandits being maltreated. These are some of the comments he makes. I believe government has the capacity to handle this thing, if it will develop the will power. Nigerian Armed Forces are noted for maintaining peace in other lands. The United Nations will look for Nigerian troops if there is war in any part of the world, and Nigerian troops will handle it effectively and come back. If we have been able to do that outside, why can’t we do that here? It’s just that the government has not got the willpower to handle this thing for reasons which I cannot explain. I pray, I believe and I am convinced that one day, God will give us leaders that will have the willpower to take tough decisions. All these talks about secession is just trying to get some strength. All you hear from the South-East, that they have not been given one position and the other and the same thing from the South-West. All these things are there and they will continue to be there. I saw the Middle Belt and the South-South saying they are not for secession, they just want to be recognised and certain things should be done. I saw Afenifere too. Akande was talking too that they are not talking about secession. This country must be restructured which is the prime demand from all sections of the country. The country must be restructured so that there will be some sort of autonomy in the states.
How will restructuring help?
It will help a lot if it is done. At the 2014 National Conference, that was what we talked about. It was talked about at length and it was decided that it has to be done. Otherwise, we are just wobbling. This country was run very efficiently in those days when it was all regions. They were controlling everything but the Federal was at the top of it. But when the military took over, they centralised it and it became a big problem. Our cry now is that we should go back to those days.
Are you saying that there should be devolution of power to the states?
Exactly. That is how this thing can be settled. You can’t stay in Abuja or Lagos and be talking about security in Plateau or Benue, Niger or Adamawa when the governor there should have full control of the security apparatus at his disposal. The governor is the ‘chief security officer’ but he has no power. He cannot direct the Commissioner of Police until the commissioner seeks permission from the Inspector General. These are big problems and we had said the power should be decentralised to the states so that the governors will have power to do certain things but should not go against what the Federal Government is doing.
Where do you think the presidency should go in 2023?
Rotation was introduced in PDP so that every part of the country can have access to power. Power should go from one side to the other. In Plateau, it is moving round the three Senatorial Districts. This thing should be done between the North and the South. If it has been in the North for eight years, it should go back to the South so that they can produce the President. Whatever part of the North that it is coming from, let it also go back to the South so that the South can also feel they’re part of this country. We shouldn’t be dominating it here because that is what is causing this problem.
Do you have faith in current constitutional review that is being done by the National Assembly?
This is ‘patch-patch’, as far as I am concerned. The constitution is being reviewed, but not in the way they are doing this. They pick areas they want. Areas that will touch them are kept aside. That is not a review of the constitution. I am completely for a new constitution. The report of the National conference is there, a genuine report put together by intelligent Nigerians who spent their time and energy to produce it. It is there and people don’t want to talk about it.
If the report on the 2014 National Conference is implemented, will it address all these agitations?
Most of the challenges will be addressed because the agitation for devolution of power will go down, which is the greatest thing that will happen. That is the restructuring we are talking about. I saw the Governor of Ondo State make a comment that there should be only one chamber at the National Assembly, which is what we discussed at the National Conference. That was the system we operated even after Independence. We had only one chamber at the National Assembly in Lagos – the House of Representatives. All the parties were there. The party that got the highest number produced the Prime Minister. He is a member of Parliament and the Prime Minister then appoints his ministers from those elected in the House, so they are all members of the Parliament. Ministers are members of Parliament. You are there to answer questions on your ministry. No double salary. The governors and president just came and they appoint their brothers, their sisters and relations that do not know anything about this country. We said in that conference that, let’s go back to that system so that the Prime Minister come from the largest party in the House and he appoint his ministers from the members of the House not like what we have today. The minister is from somewhere; he doesn’t know what is happening in the country, and the National Assembly is there doing their own thing.
Nigerians seems to losing hope in the unity of the country. How will you advise them?
We should have faith in this country, as far as I am concerned, I have faith in this country. Nigeria will overcome these challenges and Nigeria will be a very great country. We have everything it takes for a nation to grow. It’s just that we have been unable to organise ourselves properly and I pray that one day we will get people who have the strong will to do what is right for everybody in this country.