Elder statesman, Obong Victor Attah, was Governor of Akwa Ibom State between 1999 and 2007). In this interview, the octogenarian speaks on the general security situation of the nation including issues surrounding the South-West regional security outfit, Amotekun, among others.
What is your assessment of the general security situation in the country?
The general security situation is bad and it appears to be getting worse because, from the time we were told that Boko Haram had been diminished, we should by now be hearing that they have been exterminated. Instead, they seem to be recruiting and getting stronger and getting people so frightened.
What example should I give you? Was it not the previous week that we heard that 40 people including a pastor were kidnapped in Kaduna? Then last week we heard that about 35 were killed and over 50 abducted.
I ask myself, how can you hide over 50 people? We have security and yet they won’t know? 50 people or more do not fit into a 10 by 10. There must be a major holding place. So, how can there be security agencies and we do not know where over 50 people are held?
When they kidnapped the Chibok girls, we knew they took them to Sambisa Forest which is large enough. Even though there were fears that the girls could be killed should our security forces invade the area but at least we knew where they were being kept. How can they take such a large number of people and nobody knows where they are kept? So, I can only say that the situation is getting worse.
The South-West Governors seem to have developed their own home-grown solution, Amotekun. How desirable is that?
Simply put, Amotekun is a sign. A sign that can turn ominous or it can be very auspicious. Only a few days ago, I was privileged to be at the symposium by a national newspaper on 20 Years of Democracy, its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. Somebody made a very profound observation that each time we have a new government, people’s hopes are raised but by the time that government leaves, it is like people are relieved that that government has gone and a new one is coming with new hopes; that people keep getting more and more disillusioned.
I extrapolated on that and I found out that it is true of even the military regimes because every time there was a new coup, Nigerians would welcome the new coup which means that they were dissatisfied with the one that they had welcomed previously.
So, what has been the one thing that has continued through all of these governments-Military, civilian and so on? I came to the conclusion, only one thing – the Unitary System of governance.
We should see by now that this unitary system of governance is what is killing Nigeria, making Nigerians dissatisfied with one government after the other in spite of whatever efforts they may be putting into improving the lives of the people.
So, why are we keeping this unitary system? It has been said that only a mad person does something the same way over and over again and expect a different result. With this unitary system, governments after governments make us even more dissatisfied. Then we must be made to continue to keep it.
We should know now that the system is injurious. That is why I said that Amotekun is a sign. A sign of the fact that nobody can stop an idea whose time has come.
Respected elder statesman, Alhaji Tanko Yakassai said he objects to Amotekun because it should be a “national initiative.” He did not say it is wrong but said it should be a national initiative. In last Thursday’s Vanguard, Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State said they already have community police which would soon transform into state police.
So, it is clear to everybody that you can no longer resist the need to restructure this country and give it a new birth based on the foundation on which it was established which is proper and True Federalism.
I agree with Tanko Yakassai, let us have these initiatives to restructure the country and give this country new birth. I agree with him, but that is not to say that in the meantime, people should not protect themselves because one of the primary laws of nature is self-preservation. That is why I said it is a sign, and it can be very ominous, it can be very auspicious.
At that same symposium, somebody extolled the virtues of all the constituent parts of the nation, what the Igbo can do, what the Yoruba can do, what the Hausa can do and all that, but the system we have today does not allow us to realise our full potentials. That is why we are where we are today.
Now, the Federal Government has declared Amotekun illegal. Who has committed these illegalities? The governors. Are you going to prosecute the governors? We are told that they have immunity. It is very sad, very unfortunate that we have allowed it to get to a matter of almost like a face-off. If this face-off is not resolved carefully and properly, what else would result in other than conflict? And God forbid that there should be conflict but if you are not careful, maybe the best that can happen is that somebody will lose faith because I cannot see those governors backing down and is it the Federal Government that should now back down?
We have to now acknowledge the fact that this sign is unto us a means of survival or our own death sentence and the way we can survive is to accept and restructure this country and give it a new birth.
In this new birth which must bring in true federalism, we should also go to a Parliamentary System because at that same symposium, one of the speakers said he is not happy with this winner-takes-all mentality.
Somebody will get 51 per cent of the votes and he would be declared the winner against somebody who got 49 per cent. Are the 49 per cent who supported him so insignificant or that they do not mean anything?
In fact, it does not matter these days any more because our elections have been taken over by the owners of the parties, INEC and the courts. The electorate has been rendered totally useless and their votes have no meaning any more given all that has been going on with the elections so far.
But in a Parliamentary System, as I pointed out if somebody gets 51 per cent of the votes, his party will have 51 per cent representation in the House and the person who got 49 per cent of the votes will have 49 per cent representation in the House. That is when you will have a government that is meaningful to the people because people would have been truly represented by those they voted for rather than the ones that were somehow imposed on them because they managed to be declared the winner by 51 per cent votes.
I believe the solution is very simple. We can make this sign very auspicious for Nigeria by adopting it and accepting the fact that, yes, okay give us a national initiative to start the process of restructuring this country and making it a true federal system and at the same time, I will like us to consider the idea of going back to the Parliamentary System.
Some critics are concerned that Amotekun could in future become a Frankenstein Monster. Do you consider such fears as genuine?
Of course, they have a point. That is exactly what I am saying. You cannot stop the idea of restructuring. It started from the days of Bakassi Boys, then MASSOB and later IPOB. You cannot stop the idea. It has come to a point whereby if you do not accept, it is going to continue, and if you allow it to continue in this chaotic, uncontrolled and unconstitutional manner, believe me, we will be sorry for this country.
That is why I am suggesting that we accept it. Let us accept Yakassai’s position – let us do a national initiative and restructure properly within constitutional means. We will create a Constitution that gives us a total federal arrangement and you will see how all these things we are talking about would stop because all these are means of people to defend themselves having been dissatisfied with what had been going on. The dissatisfaction has been on for a very long time and it has now reached a point where it must end. It can only end in rebirth or total annihilation.
Back to the AGF’s position that Amotekun is illegal. What is your reaction?
Is he going to prosecute the six governors who brought about the illegality? That is why it is sad that we allowed a situation like this to force issues. It is either the AGF is going to be forced to back down or you force the governors to back down or is there going to be a conflict to decide who wins? It is a sign. I keep saying it is a sign and we must read the signs correctly and do what is right for this country, otherwise we will be very sorry.
What does the declaration by the AGF portend for the struggle for restructuring?
I am not a lawyer and I won’t go into constitutional implications. I am not reading any meaning to his declaration. I am only saying this thing that has happened is an indication that the time for true federalism has come and we must accept it. And I agree with those who say it should be a national initiative. So, let us start the national movement to restructure this country and give us a rebirth.
If you were to advise the South-West Governors, what would you tell them?
Advise them how? That they should not defend themselves? I am not in a position to advise them but I am in a position to advise this government to read the sign and know that we must start the process of restructuring now before it gets out of hand.
As a leader from the South-South, would you suggest the Amotekun model to your people?
I do not have to sell the idea to them. PANDEF to which I belong had already come out to support it. In fact, they are annoyed with the South-South governors that they have not been talking to one another because if they had, thousands PANDEF feel that by now they should have had this type of thing in place. I have just told you about a Northern governor who said his community police would soon become state police. Are you going to prosecute him or declare his state police illegal? We cannot focus on something that is merely a sign of the times. The times demand proper rebirth into true federalism and I think we should buy into that.
How about the Civilian JTF in some parts of the NorthEast? Shouldn’t that be illegal if Amotekun is illegal?
Well, ask the AGF. That is what I am saying. We are trying to hide our heads in the sand and the sand is very thin, so our heads are exposed now just as our backside has always been exposed. Let us come out and do the right thing for the country.
Is the creation of Amotekun an indictment on our security agencies?
I do not want to go into that. I have told you how I see this thing. It is the same circumstances that brought out Bakassi Boys; it is the same circumstances that made MASSOB thrive; it is the same circumstances that brought out IPOB; it is the same circumstances that made northern youths order Igbo people out of their region, which was described as hate speech. It had been coming for a long time.
Should a government that is advocating community policing declare Amotekun illegal?
Let me give a political answer since I am not a lawyer. Any government that is sensible should know now that even if they wanted to delay this idea, you cannot delay it any further unless you want to bring conflict.
What has become of the 16-point demand that PANDEF gave the FG in 2017?
You heard what Chief Edwin Clark said. We have waited and waited. When nothing came, we knew it was from the federal government and we concluded that ‘look, if there is wahala again, the elders will not be inclined to go and intervene.’ You can lead a horse to the stream but cannot force it to drink water. We can only beg the federal government to do something.
How about the $30 billion loan request sent to the National Assembly by the President? Can that lead Nigeria to the Promised Land?
On this loan issue, there are two things. First of all, on December 18, 2019, you heard the president saying that the revenue from oil can no longer develop Nigeria and then that the Senate was considering whether to approve or not to approve the loan request. How can anybody, only today be realizing that oil can no longer develop Nigeria. Was oil alone ever able to develop Nigeria? This mono-product economy cannot encourage development. You depend on one product to develop the country? It is not possible. We are just burying our heads in the sands.
Everybody is talking about diversification but nobody is taking any positive action on diversification. So, how can we possibly grow when we do not diversify? The only way for this diversification is to change the structure of governance, which is what we are talking about, restructuring. Change the nature of the government; don’t do this unitary thing where you collect all the money.
So long as you are collecting all this money and distributing it, every month everyone goes to collect what they feel is due to the state. If the states would survive, they will go and diversify and then develop other minerals that have never been touched, take to agriculture, revamp manufacturing, tourism and so many areas that we can make money.
I cannot see the logic of anybody saying, ‘what I have now is not enough for development, so let me go and borrow more money to develop myself’. With what will you use to pay back the loan? Is it the same oil money that is not adequate to develop, is that what you will use in paying back without creating a base for increasing and going beyond that oil money?
We should start with what we should start with, that is complete diversification which can only come with a proper restructuring of the economy and restructuring the governance structure of the country.
Unless we start with that, if you go and borrow this money and think that it is with oil money alone that we will repay the loan, then we are finished, we can never recover. So, we really have to look at this whole thing about diversification which can only come with restructuring which the president himself called the new birth.
I cannot understand why a party which has restructuring in its manifesto and set up a committee under el-Rufai that recommended a new system cannot begin to implement the same. Take the first step towards this thing before you go and take a loan. If I take a loan to expand my business and my source of income is from various sources, it can make sense. But to say we are depending on one source, oil money, it is not enough to go and take a loan. It is complete madness in my opinion except we create a wider base for the economy of this country before we can talk about that kind of thing.
And then, the infrastructure, what moves are we making to develop infrastructure? It has happened in this country before. Look at the Lekki Highway, Public-Private-Partnership PPP. Somebody built it and collected his money from the government. So, we just have to sit down and think creatively. But you see, you have to be credible.
Nobody will come and do business with Nigeria if they know that tomorrow the policy will change. We have so many policy flip-flops and change of direction all the time. If we can just concentrate on something, people will come here and build infrastructure for us.
Then, even in a small village, you have federal roads. You shouldn’t have centralized roads. Because a minister comes from a certain place, then every road there must be federal? There must be a rationalization, and I have written a paper on this. Rationalize and let us see what truly should be a federal road.
You can build major highways with six lanes throughout the country and then let the states connect to that. Rationalization and then PPP, many examples of which we have in this country, those are the only things we need to do, not to go and borrow when we do not have any other source of income than this oil which really you have admitted is not sufficient to develop us.
The National Assembly should work with the President and the manifesto of the party in power today and work to diversify the economy first. As long as there are other sources of income in Nigeria. And that can only come by taking the honest, bold decision to restructure this country (let me use that word because people pretend not to know the meaning).
Let us go back to true federalism. It is good that we have found oil in the North, but that is not the issue. Since everybody now has oil, no one will say calling for restructuring is a plot to starve the North, but oil is not the solution to our problems. The solution is to allow this country to develop along the lines of federalism, which is what we always were from the beginning.
I am saying the National Assembly should not approve the request if the intention is that it is this oil money alone, which is not considered sufficient to develop us now, is what they intend to use to pay back the loan. You will never be able to pay back.