Godwin Tsa, Abuja A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday sacked Senator Atai Idoko representing Kogi East Senatorial district on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party [PDP]. In a 99 page judgment on the pre-election dispute, Justice Gabriel Kolawole ordered the immediate swearing-in of Air Marshall Isaac Alfa (rtd.), who is also of…
Former Senator, Ekiti North senatorial district, Ayo Arise was kidnapped in December last year and he cautions that only the decentralization of the police structure would solve the problem of insecurity in the country. The former Chairman of the Senate Committee on Privatisation between 2007 and 2011 says there is an urgent need to improve the nation’s road network and other transportation modes to allow for free movement in the country. In this interview with WILLY EYA, he examines activities of last year and recounts his ordeal in the kidnappers’ den.
With all that happened in the year 2017 that just ended, how do you feel about the state of affairs in Nigeria.
Many things happened in 2017, one of which is that I was kidnapped between Kabba and Okene in Kogi State. The same year, the government also announced me as the chairman of Sheda Science and Technology Complex. All those happened in succession and within the same month. And of course people also experienced fuel shortages during the Christmas celebration. It was surprising because the petroleum product supply has been consistent for some time now. And of course also, we are happy that our president got almost a complete rejuvenation of his energy, stamina and health. There are other positive things that also happened in the year that just ended. Nigeria in the area of sports did very well as we qualified for the World Cup and a number of developments in terms of revenue generation for the country even now that the crude oil is going at $60 to $67 per barrel. I do not recall when we had this kind of remarkable improvement in our foreign reserve which today stands at about over $40 billion. In the year as well, we saw a significant transformation in the areas of other revenue generation in the country. The importation of rice has reduced significantly because of local production, which is trying to catch up with the local consumption in the country. We have seen a remarkable improvement never experienced in this country in revenue from tax collections. I believe the gentleman in charge of FIRS is doing a good job. In the same vein, if you look at the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), it has reached the N1 trillion mark in terms of revenue generation from duties. Several areas have made significant improvements. Even the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) has become an income generating organization for the Federal Government.
In the area of fighting corruption, I believe the government has tried. I think apart from a very slow judicial system, a number of people should have been in jail by now. But again, the whole essence of the fight is to get the nation’s money back from those people and maybe, give them a form of sentence that would exclude them from holding public office in future as a minimum. I believe the fight against corruption is on course. I sincerely hope that the President would not relent. Any nation that condones crimes has become a criminal enterprise. So, we should all continue to support the government. That same last year, about two to three hundred thousand youths were employed through the Federal Government initiatives like the NPower which is on course and so on. There are other social policies to guarantee that some level of succour is given to the people. But I believe there are ways to improve on this and of course, it is work in progress. I do realize that a number of people believe that the Federal Government should have solved all the problems as promised in their manifesto in the last two years. But I do not think that government works that way because if you do not follow procedure and process based on transparency, we cannot move forward. And these things take time to put together. By law, you must advertise any project for 21 days and you do the evaluation, the award and you would be waiting for the budget and all that. The Federal Government has done the budget and presented to the National Assembly and we are now expecting that the legislative arm will quickly look at the document and ensure that our budget is rolled out early enough in the year not later than February so that we begin to work with the budget. I think by and large, one can continue to talk from now till tomorrow. There are so many policies that the government has put in place. A contract has been awarded to the General Electric for our rail line for the transportation of goods and services across the country. I had the privilege of listening to the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi ,before my experience with the kidnappers. He made it clear that the railway lines have been designed in such a way that all parts of this country would be connected by rail. The design covers most of the states of the federation. In some of those efforts, you can see improvements and of course it has shown that a government can promise something and it can make it happen. The Federal Government promised to open the Abuja airport and they did. That is quite commendable.
Particularly on the issue of security, how do you feel about Nigeria especially with regards to your experience in the hands of kidnappers toward the end of the year that just ended?
It is a very scary experience to tell and it is a question of what kind of solution do we proffer. I was captured between Kabba and Okene and taken into a forest that is about 15 kilometers in terms of circumference. So, the question I kept asking myself was how would the Nigerian police rescue somebody from such a forest. As soon as the kidnappers made use of the phone, the journey starts again. There is no fixed address or house inside the forest. How do you start looking for somebody inside that place when it is not as if there is a house or an address? And in that case, how many police officers would they deploy to such a bush where they were hiding. So, it is a big challenge. And another question is what has made people to move into such a forest? It is dangerous for the victim, dangerous for them too and when you look at it, I do not think that this category of people is in that business because they do not have employment or means of livelihood. No. This is because I had to talk to the kidnappers. At the point when they wanted to go and collect the money, I asked them, if you collect this kind of money, why don’t you leave this business that you do inside the bush to go and live with your family. If you take this money, you can go and buy yam from Abuja and take it to Lagos to sell. If you invest N5 million out of this money and each of you now takes N500,000 or so, your life would never remain the same. You would be living happily and not be running away from people. They said no, it is our boss that would collect the money and that they would give them just small. That is the problem because how many jobs can you create that would give people the kind of money that these people collect. So, it has become a very big business for them. The only thing I want to call on government to do is to quickly move and repair the roads. This is because these people stay in areas where there are potholes because they know that motorists would slow down on getting there. It is from there they push people out of their vehicles and lead you to where they want. If the roads are good, the rate at which people are kidnapped would reduce because motorists would not have any need to unnecessarily slow down on the highways. If we do our roads and rail lines, the situation would drastically reduce. The majority of the people cannot be flying but if we have enough transportation system like the rail line, the situation won’t be this bad. But we hope the rail line would be constructed in such a way that the hoodlums would not go and block the lines. And how many places can the government cover. This is why the issue of state, local government and civil policing should be a priority. The Federal Government cannot carry out the whole job of policing the nation because they do not have the resources. It is a big challenge for the government and they should look at the issue of decentralization of the police to the local environment. We are now too big for that central police command arrangement. There is no reason for it. In the United States, you have the Federal Bureau of Intelligence(FBI) and every city and local council has its own police. They have the Sheriffs and they call them marshals. In the United States, if the marshals come to the state to effect an arrest, everybody would know that this is a Federal Government police. They are superior but they cannot come out looking for somebody kidnapped inside a bush in a council area. So, I think the challenge is that of every Nigerian. If we see suspicious people around our neighborhood, just quickly call the police, but the police we have now do not have the resources and what it takes to check some of these security issues. Sometimes, they say they do not even have fuel in their patrol vehicles. They complain of all manner of problems. There must be emergency solutions that all stakeholders must agree on to move forward. This is because the population of the country is growing every day. The number of people requiring policing would continue to increase. The population is not being checked, so the number of people to employ would continue to increase; the universities are increasing and everybody wants to work for the government. All these are challenges that we need to find solutions to. Even if Buhari who I personally think deserves a second term solves that problem, if it is the only thing he can achieve, that would be enough. Let us put the necessary infrastructure in place. I have spoken about modular refineries that everybody who can establish one should be allowed to do so. And the same solutions should be applied to the power sector. It is too late in the day for the government to think that it can provide all the power required for the whole country through the Ministry of power. I do not understand how that can be possible. This is because what you need in Abuja and Lagos is not the same in terms of consumption. So, they must try to look at the issue of decentralization. You issue licences and the guidelines must be there. The moment the person meets all the requirements, the person should be given a licence. There should never be sentiment in matters that require the growth and development of the country. We need to begin to address these issues and bring it to the attention of Mr President. We have to be the one talking. The President cannot be in the villa and come out with the solutions to every problem. Those who have access to him must listen to the people so that they can guide the President. But I think by and large, we cannot resolve all these problems over night.
From your interaction with these kidnappers, what is their thinking? Do you think that their frustration is against the state or what? And what is their level of communication? Do they sound like educated people or are they the illiterate hoodlums struggling to eke a living.
From the way they communicated, they are educated. My suspicion is that these people, the money they get, they use it to fund the Boko Haram sect. This is because the moment I spoke to them on what they can do to change their lifestyles, they were not forthcoming and my suspicion is that there is nothing you can do to change them. They must have a passion for something and I believe that the quantum of money they are getting on more or less a regular basis, for them not to utilise it for something meaningful is a source of worry for me. You make some money in that way and you are not planning to leave that business. It should be a source of worry to everybody. We must make sure that if such people are caught, they must pay a price, otherwise people would feel that they can just come out, make money and become lords. Nobody can trust these people because the money at their disposal is too much. I think we need a national discourse on this matter. It is a terrible situation. To me and even to my wife and a lot of my friends, the kidnappers did not appear to me as people who did not have tertiary institution certificates. They were speaking good English. They did not know me and when they asked me who I am, I told them that I am retired. This is because I was thinking ahead and I was very calm. I felt that if I told these guys a lie and they found out, I would be in trouble. They asked me ‘you have retired from where’ and I told them from the National Assembly. I told them that I retired six years ago. So, by the time the newspapers and other news platforms started talking and writing about it, they came back to me the second day and asked me when you were in the National Assembly, where did you retire from and I said the Senate. They asked me which department did I work in the National Assembly. You can imagine the person questioning me asking me which department of the National Assembly. That would tell you that he is a very educated person. They subjected me to many interviews. They told me you are a politician, what have you done. You deceived everybody and when you get there, you forget everybody and I was just wondering about these young chaps. It is not a funny experience. I have so many friends from all the ethnic groups in the country. Even my friends that sent the first N1 million is from the North. So, do you now zero it that this thing was done by these people. It gave me another school of thought completely and I believe that we would be able to resolve our differences in this country without looking at where somebody comes from. We should look for the person who would proffer the solutions; the person can be from anywhere. If there are new jobs, people who are willing to work would still find something there, because there are so many opportunities opening up in this country today. People are getting access to money and agricultural supplements to go into farming. The Bank of Industry(BOI) is there. I think the APC is doing a lot to better the lives of Nigerians. But as quickly as possible, something should be done about restructuring. We have a huge population and we can benefit from the amount of human and material resources that we have.
While you were in the kidnappers den, did you imagine that the worst could happen and you could lose your life in the hands of the criminals?
Oh! yes, I had no doubt in my mind that these people could kill me. When I told them that all I could give them was N10 million, they subjected me to some kind of torture and tied my hands. That was when I had to call my friend that these people are getting very rough with me so that he could see how he can quickly raise some money. I still have some marks in my hands. But of course, God was so very kind. People rallied round me –my friends, my community people supported me. My community put about N4 million and it was amazing. Many people including those of the grassroots were there for me. I am not talking of the rich folks. It was an eye opener for me. I told them that if you make the money you are demanding too big, the government would get involved somehow and that they would not give them money but capture them. And may be you can kill me. They told me that if the government comes they would kill me. But I kept telling them that if you kill me, no money would come here because I had told my friends that if you do not hear from me, you should not bring any money. I knew from my discussion with them that what they were after was the money. And they told me that they killed some people. So, I was not unmindful of the fact that these people could kill me. But the most worrisome part was the persons bringing the money in which case, if they were stopped by the police, it was trouble for me. If it got into the hands of good policemen, they would take them to the police station with the money but if they got into the hands of bad cops, they might take them to the bush and shoot two of them. That was very worrisome. We just have to continue to pray for our country to improve.