Nigerian Security Watched as Herdsmen Killed, Burnt Houses


A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress and former Director General of the MKO Abiola Campaign Organisation, Senator Jonathan Zwingina, is worried about the state of the nation and shares his concerns with Bayo Akinloye. Excerpts:

Prior to the incarceration of Chief MKO Abiola, you were one of his close allies. What kind of person was he?
He was a man of humane personality. He was very intelligent. He had quite a lot of native intelligence apart from academic or intellectual intelligence. He was also very generous. His generosity came naturally and not induced by any particular purpose. At the time we worked together, the contributions he made to schools, hospitals, sports, and construction of mosques – even his contributions to churches – and several others demonstrated his level of generosity. He was always motivated by his heart to give to the needy.

At the international level, he was very passionate about the issue of reparation. He defined reparation – not necessarily for former colonialists to pay compensation in financial terms for misdeeds of slavery – in terms of international trade waivers and investment incentives to compensate for the historical exploitations and oppression of the black through slave trade.

He said he wasn’t interested in cash compensation in respect of our toil – the toil of our ancestors. He was very clear about that. He was always looking at policy decisions that would alleviate the situation brought about by the misery of enslavement. To talk about Abiola is like holding a seminar; even a one-week seminar will not be able to cover him.

What is your takeaway from your relationship with Abiola?
I have taken with me the spirit of generosity – his desire to impact on the community. I think his wit was terrific. He had a way with proverbs. He would use a proverb in discussing an issue and you would never miss the point – he had so many of such proverbs and there was no way you would listen to them and lose sight of their import. His proverbs would teach a lesson in a dramatic way that you would never forget.

So, I had partaken from a lot of that. There was one thing about him: Chief Abiola would ask you in the morning: Have you eaten? How about your children? He would even mention your children by name. When my daughter fell ill and was admitted in EKO Hospital, Chief Abiola went to that hospital and the entire road was closed and the entire hospital was agog – it was like a carnival. He came to see my daughter in the hospital – that was vintage Abiola for you.

Following the annulment of June 12, 1993 presidential election, what were your last moments with Abiola like and what did you discuss?
We felt bad about the annulment of the June 12 election. It was a shock. We felt maybe it was a mistake that would be corrected; then, later we began to do something on our own. I encouraged him to go to Abuja and meet his friend – the former president (Ibrahim Babangida) – and after some days he acquiesced. So, we all left for Abuja and stayed at Sheraton with his wife and my sister. Following that, we encouraged him to reach out to Aso Villa (seat of power), which he tried.

Unfortunately, the feedback was not encouraging at all. Our go-between was coming and going, meeting the two persons but not exchanging any information. We could not get the right response from the president. It was a decision that had been taken at that level and apparently with so much determination that even with all the history of their friendship, the issue could not be resolved. So, we knew that this was a game created by the military.
It would also appear that the military itself had some internal squabbles – a faction of the military that appeared to have command of troops and weapons was in charge and that faction was somehow threatening the political faction that was in government. Therefore, the government faction was not able to – maybe do things the way they wanted. It wasn’t as if they wanted Abiola to take over but they just wanted to continue (being in power) – that wasn’t even possible. I mean it wasn’t even possible for them to secure their own continued stay in power.

You can then imagine how more impossible it would be to hand over government to Chief Abiola. That was the kind of scenario we had in the last days (leading to the eventual arrest and detention of Abiola). And then, of course, we had this deception about working together with the (military) government (that took over power following the installation of Chief Ernest Shonekan as head of a National Interim Government) so that there would be a return to June 12 in which my principal – Chief MKO Abiola – was encouraged by the government to advise all his key lieutenants to join the government.

We sat and wrote the names of those to join the government – and a number of them refused (to join that government). But then we had to go – led by Chief Abiola – with the argument that ‘when that government is going to discuss June 12 and you my people are not there, who will be there to speak for me?’ With that powerful line of reasoning it was difficult for some of them to say no. We all joined the government, one by one. He said, ‘Look, the NRC is sending Mallam Adamu Ciroma; they are sending Alhaji Bamanga Tukur and other big names’.

Therefore, he also wanted SDP to send individuals that would argue on behalf of the party and its candidate’s mandate. That was the atmosphere in which we were at that time. It was in that atmosphere that I was supposed to be a minister but the government said I was young and they wanted Bamanga Tukur from old Adamawa and so, I was nominated to go in the capacity of a state commissioner. It was an arrangement we all made in good faith. We didn’t know about the deception part of it (the arrangement with the government).

But it turned out that it certainly was a promise not meant to be kept by the government. I remember he (Abiola) called me and asked me to come back and live with him in Lagos, which we did but the circumstances at that time was so clear that the government was not willing to hand over – they were rather willing to unleash violence. Signs of that were in the air, because there were some arrests made. There were some bombings here and there. It was a very unsafe atmosphere in Lagos. We were really shocked that things took a turn that way.

But why do you think Ambassador Babagana Kingibe is often singled out and vilified – for joining the Gen. Sani Abacha regime – as a traitor of the June 12 struggle?
I think the reason is because he appeared to have moved much closer to Abacha than the other members of Abiola’s close team. Secondly, he was the most visible and sadly, he was part of the ticket – in the sense that it was a joint ticket. There couldn’t be a presidential candidate without a running mate. So, it was thought that constitutionally once your principal decided to withdraw from any discussions then it followed that at least his running mate should also follow suit. He was not like other appointees who – even if Chief Abiola had become president would also be appointed – unlike Kingibe, who was actually tied to the ticket, not by appointment but by election.
That is why there was so much rancour. But like I said, Kingibe did not just run away alone to join the government – it was part of a collective decision. But his leadership in that discussion and in those early days appeared as if he had so much in common with the military than Chief Abiola and the other leaders.

With June 12’s recognition as Democracy Day by the federal government, do you think it is a validation of the annulled election?
I believe so. I believe it is, because there is no basis for that recognition and there is no basis for the award of the GCFR – which is an award for presidents; there is no basis for all of that if it was not meant to offer a validation of the results of the June 12 presidential election. And I think that is one area that we commended the president for taking that bold initiative – an initiative that really should have been taken by Chief Obasanjo or even by President Goodluck. But whatever the matter is, I think Buhari had come out as a more passionate leader – an understanding leader – even if it was a political move, it was a smart one.

What’s your assessment of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last three years?
First and foremost, I am a member of the APC and I have been working closely with the government in Adamawa State. I am also involved in some aspects of the party at the national level. I was among those that conducted primaries in Abia State. So, I will say that I am favourably disposed to the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari. However, there are some challenges that even those of us in the party are worried about. These challenges have to do with security, for instance, it is number one.

In fact, the security situation in the country has become so bad, and we wonder whether the security chiefs have certainly locked their wits and their intelligence and their training capabilities that the herdsmen scenario has refused to go away. We believe that the president can do more and he should pressurise the security chiefs to do more. This is one challenge I don’t think anybody – including his family – feels that enough has been done. Much more needs to be done. It’s a big daily matter – not even a weekly matter now.

The other challenge is the issue of corruption – tackling corruption. There are people who point to examples of corruption cases that have not been thoroughly or fully investigated and some people are alluding to maybe partnership or membership of the ruling party. But I will say there are members of the party that have also been convicted. Senator Dariye was a member of the APC; so, I think sometimes the narrative is not given accurately. Let me add that much more should be done especially in the judiciary, because some of the cases have taken so long that they are acquiring a life of stalemate.

I think the judiciary will need to institutionalise a certain time-frame for various cases and perhaps the issue of the new court being set up will also need to be fast-tracked. There are other issues that need to be sorted out. I think the issue of the economy is picking up – we have resumed our number one position in Africa. While we’re contending with security challenges in the country we’re also contented with the achievements recorded so far. It’s a mixed bag really.

What do you think the re-election of President Buhari in 2019 will mean for Nigeria?
Well, I can only say what I hope for. My hope is that the election should be completely free and peaceful and whoever that Nigeria wants should be a person that should be filled with the fear of God and will also tackle the security situation in the country. Those of us in the APC are calling on the president, particularly his advisers in the security department, to change the narrative and adopt other methods of resolving the security challenges beyond the level they have reached – that is our hope that we go into this election and ensure that there is a template for resolving the security situation once and for all.

There is a template for resolving other cases so that this country can return to normalcy and peace. A situation where in some communities, especially in some states including my own state of Adamawa, there are daily encounter with violence – uninvited violence. People were sleeping in their homes and then some people – group of people – with AK-47 set their houses on fire and shot those who tried to escape from the inferno – those who didn’t run out got burnt in their homes. This is a new and strange phenomenon. Whoever wins the presidential election in 2019, the first item on the agenda should be the resolution of that security challenge.

So, you agree that contrary to its promises pre-2015, the security situation in the country has worsened under the APC government?
I agree entirely. Even as an APC chieftain, I do agree that insecurity has not got the attention from the security chiefs as expected and that it is unfortunately getting worse. This, the security chiefs should admit as much themselves. Therefore, we are throwing this challenge to the government to rejig and change the narrative of how to resolve the security situation even if the attackers are coming from outside of Nigeria. It is the duty of the government to block them and stop them – we cannot shift the blame at all.

So, do you think the president as the commander-in-chief has failed in his responsibility to protect the lives and properties of Nigerians?
I will say he is not being assisted to do enough. No one president alone solves problems. He solves the problems with intelligence chiefs, security chiefs and if they don’t provide the adequate information and they don’t provide him security information – they don’t give him accurate information, not giving the real narrative and change the language to make the situation look less threatening.
For example, you hear there was a clash but what we had really was not a clash. It was an invasion of people sleeping in their homes. I will blame the ring – security ring – around him for that perpetuation of inadequacy. We believe that he should rejig the security and get people in place, who have the right ideas and approach for a positive change in the country’s situation.

When you said the security chiefs should be blamed it seems you’re absolving the commander-in-chief of the mess in the security situation?
I am not absolving him. I am saying that the commander-in-chief is not being fed with adequate, accurate and realistic information to take the right decision. Before the commander-in-chief goes to the field he has to take the right persons. He has trusted the security chiefs to do that and some of them obviously are not doing that – they’re not doing enough of that.
We just have to ensure that if we’re entrusted with power or authority, we should act in a manner that justifies the trust. The president cannot be everywhere and be checking the herdsmen himself. He has to use people and these people have to bring back reports – accurate reports – which he will act on with recommendations. That is not going well and that is the greatest challenge we have in the APC government.

Let’s talk about the recent killings in Plateau State attributed to the herdsmen. Some have claimed that Boko Haram elements have infiltrated the ranks of these nomads. Do you think so?
I think there’s a need for proper intelligence and there is a need for proper recording of what is going on. There is a mixture of so many things. My perspective is that there must be some elements of Boko Haram that have infiltrated the herdsmen’s problem. There must be foreign elements, because what we have seen in communities where attacks have taken place is that the people holding the gun didn’t speak Hausa; didn’t speak Fulfulde and were foreigners but the people showing them (where and who) to attack are neighbours of the people being attacked.

So, there’s a combination. And then, there are people watching with guns and they are in uniform and when you say, ‘Hey, there is an attack going on!’ they will respond say, ‘We have no order to shoot!’ That is what is going on – the security people who are armed are not ordered to shoot; they are practically ineffective in combating this issue. That is why I said the security chiefs and the security architecture need to be rejigged. So, the blame has to go to the man in the field first. The president should rejig the security chiefs.

A new faction of the APC, called the reformed APC just emerged and it is reminiscent of what led to the decimation of the PDP ahead of the 2015 elections. Are you worried?
No. A party that is big – that is in power – must attract that, even the lizard will like to stay in that party; a snake will like to be there and so with the goat, sheep and chicken. Everybody wants to be in the big house, full and large. So, we’re neither surprised by the cracks nor surprised by the development going on. But what I will assure you is that the democratic character of APC is responsible for this crack that we’re talking about. If we’re a monolithic party – if we’re a domineering party – we’d have killed all the opposition and created a monolithic structure.

But because we love democracy and we are liberal about the way we go about it. I don’t think the APC is having bad days ahead of it. There were fears that we were going to blow up ourselves during the convention but we never did. All we did was have balloons burst at the Eagle Square. I think the APC leadership is doing its best in terms of discussing with them. I think the door has not been closed on them and that some of them are rather impatient.
The more patient ones among them are taking part in a dialogue that I believe will bring about harmony. I don’t see anything unusual about what is going on. Some groups of people in the party are not happy; they’re discussing with the party leadership. Others are not happy and they have gone their way. There are others still waiting to see how they will be accommodated. You can’t please everybody.

You seem to have been quiet on the political space until recently. Is it that you’ve taken a backseat?
Why won’t I be quiet? I wasn’t quiet when I had a job that didn’t need me to be quiet. I was a spokesperson for the Senate while representing my constituency. Then, other people got elected and took over the responsibility – I didn’t have the mandate to speak on their behalf. I only talk when it is necessary to talk. Like Shakespeare has said, life’s a stage. It is like a theatre: there’s entry and there’s exit. I have had my entry and my exit. I am now running for the Senate again to have another entry.