Dr Junaid Mohammed, a former federal lawmaker and a strong voice from the North in this interview speaks extensively on the crisis in the Niger Delta, corruption in the Muhammadu Buhari-led government and other national issues. He spoke with BRUCE MALOGO. Excerpts…
MILITANCY IN THE NIGER Delta is becoming too dangerous for the country. What do you think is the solution?
The problem, essentially and very profoundly, is political. It is a political problem, so the handling must be political. And it has to be done with all sense of sincerity. The tendency that I observe in this current government is that: One, they have their minds made up already. Their minds are made up because they believe in the difference between good and evil. They are the good people and anybody who is opposed to them is the bad person. And that includes very very senior members of the All Progressive Congress (APC) itself.
If you look at the government today, over 80% of appointments made were people who had nothing to do with APC as a party. Decisions are being taken by people who are not members of the party, people who were never members of the party, and whose only qualification is that they are either blood relations of General Muhammadu Buhari, or they are personal friends of his, or they are connected either by business or something else to his relations or personal friends.
Maybe I have been wasting 14 years of my time in politics. But one thing I know is that in any government, also a corrective government, the idea is that one can run that government credibly and use it essentially without being associated with nepotism while chronic capitalism is impossible to succeed.
I don’t want to go too far. But I want to assure you that those who are fighting in the Niger Delta don’t give a hoot about this country and they sadly don’t give a hoot about the government or APC as a party. To them, it is their birthright to do whatever they want to do with the oil or their national economy, if it comes to that.
Unfortunately, instead of government to confront the issue the way it should, using the method of carrot and stick, it is determined to go its own way. And you must have heard about the meeting held in the Presidency during which most of the governors of the South-south said the one condition for them to ask these boys in the Niger Delta Avengers group to stop the bombings is for government to stop further prosecution of people accused of corruption in their area. In other words, what they want is that in the whole of South-south, corruption or any other crime should not be prosecuted.
Now, you must know that no self-respecting government can accept this. And to everybody’s surprise, even the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Ibe Kachikwu who is also the GMD of the NNPC; who is aware of the damage being done to the facilities of the foreign companies or NNPC facilities, is supporting the idea that nobody should be prosecuted for corruption in the Niger Delta. And to accede to this, means that we are calling for the destruction of the country; because that is the essence of what they are asking.
It is in the papers. I read it that the pre-condition for them to ask the boys to stop doing the damage they are doing to our national economy is for government to commit not to prosecute anybody and to stop the investigation by EFCC of anybody from the Niger Delta.
Now, if this is what the whole brouhaha about Buhari administration is all about, then I can assure you that he would preside over the destruction of Nigeria. If he wants to have that on his mind, then good luck to him. There is no way this country can break up peacefully. There has to be violence. And there is no guarantee that what they are inflicting on oil companies and NNPC are enough for them to win a war against the federal might. So, we are in a conundrum.
We have a government, which hates politics and politicians. The only people they are prepared to dialogue with are either terrorists in the Niger Delta or people who are their cronies and their friends. Now, this is the danger we are facing. I have nothing but contempt for the people in the Niger Delta Avengers. Also, I have nothing but contempt for the capacity or the lack of capacity by the government in power. They are talking from both ends of their mouths. I imagine that because they make noise, they can get away with certain things. I have never heard of a country running a two tier legal system; one tier for people who are outside the Niger Delta or a certain region, and another tier for a privileged few in the Niger Delta who must be placed above the law.
I’m waiting for the government under Vice President Yemi Osinbajo to see what would be their reaction. Because to accede to this demand is to say ‘everybody should go and do as he or she likes; Nigeria is no more’.
A committee has already been setup to negotiate with these young men. How does that appeal to you?
It is a shameless hypocrisy. One, if indeed they had wanted to negotiate with these boys, what they should have done was to negotiate with their masters. Clearly, these boys are being sponsored by some politicians in the South-south. In fact, some of them are governors and former ministers; their identities are known. Many of them are not even leaving in the area, they leaving in Abuja and Lagos.
Are you sure of that?
I’m sure of that. Besides, the current governors are the ones asking them. In fact, the governor of Delta state, Ifeanyi Okowa gave the impression that he had already secured certain terms in discussion with the NDA. But then, he was afraid to make it public because he doesn’t know how the Vice President who had a meeting with them would react. So how do you negotiate with people who you don’t have their identity? Can you do that?
Obviously, they are not spirits, they are human beings…?
Exactly! Then someone can even claim like the governor of Delta state that he’s willing to negotiate on their behalf; he had already spoken to them. So, what are we to say? The minister- Kachukwu is saying that we should accede to their demands. Then, what are you telling me?
Put yourself in the position of the president of this country, how would you tackle the issue of Niger-Delta militancy for once?
First, there have been experiences in the past depending on the personality and the mindset of the person who was taking the lead position as leader of this country. We had the Babangida supplement plan; bribe all bribeables, make as many concessions as possible, paving the way for greater terrorism, so be it; provided he was comfortable and safe and sound in his own villa in Abuja.
Number two, there was the iron fist approach by Abacha which obviously worked. Because for a time Abacha was confronting them, he was also confronting the NADECO characters. And he prevailed on both areas.
Then the third approach is what I regard as the Yar’Adua approach, which is to accede to whatever their demands are, and pay them and their sponsors a lifetime salary so that they can keep quiet. And clearly the Yar’Adua approach has failed, because from the very beginning, the Yar’Adua approach was not time-bound. You cannot give criminals salary in the name of rehabilitation and make it as if it was meant to last forever. And to do that anyway would be to encourage more and more people, especially people who are jobless to come and join in the rot, and insist that they are also entitled to amnesty and they must be paid.
So, which of the three would you go for?
I would not recommend any of the three singularly. But I recommend a mixture of all three; where there is a genuine problem they must be resolved. For example, I believe, what is happening in Ogoni about the cleaning of their land and some of the projects that have been earmarked, can be used seriously and honestly to pacify the Ogoni land. But mind you Ogoniland; from my own experience because I used to be in OMPADEC; the Ogoniland is not the whole of Niger Delta, or are they the ones that have suffered most in this pollution. I believe there are other areas where you just have to confront some of these terrorists with their master Tompolo, and the governors and the politicians who are using them. And to do so, would have to entail not having to do with oil money for some months. And it means also having to arrest some of the people behind them and who are now leaving comfortably in Abuja.
One of the Niger Delta activists, Ms Ankio Briggs said that amnesty is not the solution, and that what they want is to control their oil and send tax to the federal government. How do you react to that?
First, Ankio Briggs has a history. She has her own antecedents. She is one of those that do not believe in the existence of Nigeria as a country. Two, there are implications for those who believe in Nigeria because if you believe that Nigeria should be a single country, then Nigeria must be a single economy and a single market. So, anybody can do business anywhere.
If however, the obsession of the likes of Ankio Briggs is to stand and say ‘this oil belongs to us, no other person should have anything to do with it’, that rule should not only apply to Nigerians who are not from Niger Delta, it should also apply to the big oil companies who are either American or British or European. And to do so; it is unacceptable. I don’t think they have the wherewithal to do what they think they have the capacity to do. The fact of the matter is, they don’t have the technology, and the trained personnel to explore the oil and sell it. The moment you say that you would give a sub-section of the Nigerian state to negotiate some international agreement, or to deal separately on their own and not with the Nigerian federation, then there is no need talking about the Nigerian federation.
One of the tragedies that I observe is that: one, the current president was supposed to have been oil minister from 1976 to 1981. But my reading of the way he is handling the industry is that he has forgotten whatever little he knew about the industry. And the interconnectedness nationally and internationally is there, but he naming Kachikwu his junior minister; by name only when he is actually the de-facto minster, the GMD of the NNPC- the most powerful minister of oil in the history of Nigeria. They believe that somehow, because they are in charge, whatever they do must be right. That to me is a major tragedy.
Finally, I have always opposed the idea of giving oil blocks to any Nigerian, whoever he is, whether from Niger Delta or outside the Niger Delta. I still stand by it. The idea of giving oil blocks to individuals, started with Babangida. Now, all of us are paying for it. I don’t own an oil block but for three days, I haven’t enjoyed electricity.
So, if he wants to do that and he claims to have a sense of history, they are talking rubbish. They don’t know what they are talking about their history.
Look if the government is not prepared to confront the situation the way it should, then let us go back and legislate expose factor. And say that no Nigerian should own an oil block and in doing that, we won’t be the only ones. I know that in Iran and Iraq, oil producing countries who have been members of OPEC, no individual is allowed to own an oil block. I support that 100%.
But the idea that they don’t want anybody outside the Niger Delta to own an oil block is in a way saying they are first class citizens, the rest of us are second class citizens. If it is going to belong to all, then let it go to all. By that, all the oil blocks would belong to the Federal government and the proceeds will go to government. That is my understanding.
But let me tell you, there is no government and given the reality of Nigeria today, no government would concede that to them.
I know that there have been instances when oil blocks were allotted to people from the Niger Delta but the privileges were abused. They sold the blocks to other people; some to Nigerians and some to foreign companies. The Malabo oil scandal is very much alive and well. It is the most scandalous transaction ever made in the history of Nigeria. The man behind the scandal, a former oil minister is very much there and a certain aspect of that deal is still in court today. There is nothing to fear about their own people or the way they have been handling their oil wells. Trillions of naira have been sunk into their area and it has been stolen and stashed away in foreign banks people from the Niger Delta.
Let’s come back to what is going on in government. Are you satisfied with the fight against corruption so far? Would you say this government has fought corruption the way it should?
The government has been trying its best and I think what they have done so far is okay. This is the best that can be expected.
We have pockets of agitations here and there. We have in the middle belt, the issue of herdsmen, the Biafra people are agitating from one end, and now the Niger Delta Avengers. Can we make progress in all these?
I have no doubt in my mind that this country is in a danger. My attitude towards confronting the danger is not to sit down and lament about it. I would start to look for solutions, solutions that are first and foremost, just and realistic; given the challenges we are confronted with. I believe in my mind that it is possible to deal with the Boko Haram situation and if, in fact the military under Goodluck Jonathan had done its job or were allowed to do their job by not allowing the monies to be stolen by civilians and military alike, by now we would have Boko Haram in the dustbin of history.
Agitation in the middle-belt is not as serious but I’m concerned about the migratory movement and the mode of grazing by the Fulani, many of whom are not Nigerians. The problem of the Fulani herdsmen is that; one, they had been victims on a number of occasions, there have been cattle rustling for the past 50 years. Lands that were set aside by the previous Northern regional government for grazing were taken over by privileged men, wealthy people, soldiers and turned into ranches. And these ranches are essentially idle, nobody does anything about it. In fact, some of the ranches have houses where people go and organize discos and what have you contrary to the purpose of grazing and farming. I believe we have to return the system of grazing and reclaim those areas which have not been built up and allow the Fulani to graze.
Down south, there is a little problem. But it is a problem only because there seem to be no will on the part of government or the previous government. I don’t know why there is no governmental will, but the fact of the matter is that this problem can be solved if there is awill on the part of the government.
Everybody is aware that 72% of landmass and water resources in Nigeria are in the North. If you reclaim those areas that have been identified in the past, and by law set them aside as grazing lands and lands to water animals for the Fulani, and what have you, you can see that 72% of the problem is already solved. It can be done because the government, under the Land Use Decree which is now part of the constitution, has the right to acquire land anywhere for public use. This is nothing but public use; it is not given to Fulani or any individual. That can be done, and be done peacefully.
Now, there is a dimension many people who want to play politics with the issue don’t seem to remember. The weaponization of the average Fulani cattle herder, started directly as a result of the problem in Libya. When the western countries first bombed and destroyed Libya and brought about a change of the Gaddaffi government. Now Gaddaffi had a huge armoury of weapons, and he had also merceneries, some of who are Fulani and some Tuareg. When he was overthrown by the western countries with their superior weapons, the arms were not properly accounted for. So people broke open the armouries and sold arms to anyone who was prepared to buy. That was how the herdsmen started getting theirs and other upowerful weapons and they have hundreds of tons of ammunitions to deal with. And these are the things that have been coming to the sahel region and to the rest of Africa.
There are two issues arising from what you have just said. One, if they are not Nigerians as many people have just been mouthing, how was it possible for them to come enmass into the boarders and make trouble in Nigeria. Number two is, these cows are not owned by these herders, they are owned by individual businessmen and farmers. How come they still allow them carry these arms?
First and foremost, if you own a cow, that is a significant investment if you don’t know. Two, I don’t believe you have ever been on the boarder of Nigeria and Niger alone. It is over 6000km. I don’t believe that the Nigerian armed forces and other security agents have the type of manpower or equipment and aircraft- because I knew there was a time when aircraft was used to patrol the borders. The cost was prohibitive; and government had to stop it. The solution to this kind of artificial arrangement by the colonial masters; where they go and put artificial boarders between two people, who are one and the same. It’s either you remove the borders and that would change the entire configuration of the countries.
Unfortunately, part of the UN system; and it is one area which is contestable, is that after the Second World War, no country created should be allowed to be dismembered. Dismemberment has always meant that war would immediately follow. What is happening in Sudan between north and south Sudan is a classical example. So the idea that we should stop them from coming in won’t work. The entire Nigerian army, immigration, custom, or whatever you call them cannot effectively man that border.
And mind you, the situation is not only confined to us here in Nigeria; Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal and all the areas around the Sahel also are facing the same problem.
Two, I think there is a lot of confusion when people say the Fulani herdsmen are not the people who own the cows. That is partly true because to them, being herdsman is not just a question of doing a job for economic survival, it is a way of life. You have the same problem with the Tuaregs who deal in camels. So asking them to stop is asking them to stop living their pattern of life which has been for generations and millennia. It cannot happen overnight, it would take time. Sadly the people who own the herds are tiny minority. And it’s a very risky venture. Let me give you a personal example. If you buy some cows and hand it over to a Fulani man, sometime they disappear for five-10 years, you don’t see them until when they would come back to render accounts. Can you indulge in such kind of business yourself? But those who do derive satisfaction; I don’t. And that is why I stopped.
So, as far as I’m concerned the important thing to do is let us look rationally and let us minimize the politics in it. These people are coming through Niger, Chad and going through the whole of northern Nigeria-through the east particularly down to Niger Delta.
I think the knotty issue remains the persistent killing, raping of people by these herdsmen…?
(Cut in) let us be very careful. I don’t like to generalise because I don’t like to blame people unless I have evidence to blame them.
One, if they have been around for over 50 years and there have been skirmishes here and there, yet there is no instance of raping. Then the question is why now? And what would make the Fulani man to introduce this additional layer of violence called raping?
That is exactly what I’m saying. If they have been around, they have not been causing trouble; why now?
I have given you one reason. The overthrow of Gaddaffi threw hundreds of millions small arms for anyone to buy. If you go to some markets in Maiduguri and Chad, you can go and buy a gun the way people display tomatoes, potatoes or yam. You’ll see it there and they tell you the calibre and the bullets suitable for it. It is all out of the coup which was led by US, Britain and France against Gaddaffi. And we are paying the price now.
People say that owners uf these cattle must be arming the guys?
I said No! No! No! No!
Who arms them?
I say they arm themselves. Because when you give them some of these cattle, it exceeds stocks, if they like they can sell it to buy arms. Assuming you give someone 10 cows, with nine females and one male for the purpose of breeding, they can sell one to buy a number of guns. So it is not quite the people who are arming them, not the owners of the cattle. It is not so. I’m telling you. It started with cattle rustling. The rustlers come and attack them with arms. So when the situation turned around, and they found they can easily get weapons, they decided to get their own weapon to confront the rustlers.
So, I’m not saying one side is right or wrong. It takes political leadership and I have not seen evidence of political leadership from those who are governing Nigeria now or on the part of those who governed Nigeria in the past. That is my concern. Nothing is too difficult to handle if there is goodwill. But I have not seen the goodwill and I have not seen the political maturity needed.
Last time we spoke, on this corruption thing you told me that the only person you can vouch for is President Buhari. Do you still stand by that?
Absolutely. I believe he is the only one that is sincere and 100% devoted to fighting corruption in this country.
What is the danger?
He is going to be isolated. Already he is being isolated. And it is more dangerous, he is being betrayed by his own people, friends, people in government who are his partners, and even personal relations. He is already isolated.
How do you mean he is being isolated?
If you are fighting corruption, an appointee of yours goes to commit a corrupt act, is he not betraying you?
But no one has been made public?
Oh my friend. Don’t deceive yourself. There is corruption going on now. He is aware of some of it. And the rest of us are very much aware of it.
Even in government now?
I told you that corruption is not only when you take or give bribe. But when you indulge in nepotism, that is also corruption, when your friends use the mere fact that you’re friends to commit acts of corruption or to cut deals like it happened in the ministry of petroleum for example; that is what we call chronic capitalism, it is also a form of corruption. So don’t deceive yourself that because Buhari is fighting corruption then corruption is no more. Corruption is very much alive and well and it is fighting back. Fighting back not the way we expect; frontally by those found to be corrupt. But it is fighting back through people who claim to be close to Buhari. And that is where it’s dangerous.