Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Cally Ikpe engage Senator Adamu Aliero, a former Governor of Kebbi State and former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory on issues around electoral violence and restiveness in the country
You that you’ve been around for a very long time especially in our political history since 1999, I don’t know what you’re feeling right now when you hear issues of electoral violence from many parts of Nigeria as was the case in the just concluded general elections. Are you concerned about this?
Certainly, I feel very worried, very disturbed because really, elections should not cost the life of any human being, in fact even if the prize is the exalted office of the president. It should not be so.
I believe in a violence-free election because it is only when the process is devoid of violence that you can claim to have a government that can be said to be legitimate.
A government from a violent process cannot be respected and will likely do things that are completely out of touch with the people. Really, they will struggle all through and everyone will lose in the end.
Inordinate and unfounded ambitions are believed to be at the root of some of these situations which ultimately manifest as insurgency, terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and in some cases electoral violence. Does this worry you as a stakeholder in the Nigerian project?
Talking about banditry, kidnapping, insurgency and also youth restiveness particularly in the Niger Delta, these are common challenges that are slowing down governance. I am however consoled knowing that government is doing everything possible to ensure that it gets to the root of all the issues. Concerning insurgency, for instance, when the government came in 2015 there were over 17 local governments under the control of Boko Haram with their flags hoisted everywhere. In fact, there was no other authority except that of Boko Haram. You were unlikely to see any police man or soldier anywhere around these local government areas. However, President Buhari like the true General that he is, moved swiftly by reinforcing the military capability and enhanced their morale. In no time, the 17 local government areas were liberated. At present, there is not a single local government under the control of Boko Haram.
The president is also doing his very best particularly on the issue of banditry, in Zamfara, Kaduna, Kastina states in the north western part of the country. In the North-central, a lot has been done but unfortunately these challenges still prevail. It’s definitely not something that can be cleared overnight. I will give an example, the challenge of Irish Republican Army took the British government over 40 years of serious trouble to overcome. Consider what happened in Iraq before Saddam Hussein was deposed by allied forces led by America. To this day, you don’t have peace in that country. Same thing with Afghanistan, insurgency is not something we can overcome overnight. I believe with the kind of antidote the government is providing, we will soon be out of the woods.
With regards to the war on insurgency by the Nigeria government, billions of naira have been expended between 2002 to date. Many people think this has become some sort of industry from which many people including those in government are profiting. Is this a real war going on or it is just a business venture?
I do not think it is business. I remember when the National Assembly was approached to improve the purchase of Tucano aircraft from United States of America this was a deal sealed between the government of Nigeria and government of the United States of America. No intermediary was involved at all and we needed this aircraft to fight insurgency not only in the North-eastern part of the country, but also fight restiveness in the Niger Delta and cattle rustlers in both North-western and also North-central of the country and this Tucano aircraft has been put into very good use. I cannot say that people have made money out of it.
Sometimes people who are taken hostage, ransom is demanded and in many instance paid. In some situations, so much money is released for IDPs which is not judiciously utilized. All of these resources could have been channeled into building super infrastructures. Don’t you see the gap here?
You should understand that North-eastern part of Nigeria was completely destabilized and government has to come in and ensure that these insurgents are booted out. Government has succeeded in debasing them. They lack capacity to control any local government. The lack capacity to even attack. They are now limited to what do you can call hitting soft target. Using bomb to go to market places, to go to motor park and kidnap people to get ransom to continue with their notorious activities, quite a number of them have been arrested, quite a number of them are being put under the program of the deradicalisation and some of them have become good citizens.
Do these measures justify huge sums of that money has to be spent? There are still some people unduly benefiting from this and they are committed to making sure that this war rages on, which probably leads me this question of cooperate conspiracy: Yes, people in high places or position of authority orchestrate violent situations so they can benefit from it, materially or politically. Do you believe this?
I believe that government is fully committed to restoring law and order in this country and that’s why a lot of resources have been committed to maintaining security. Somehow, one cannot rule out the possibility Bad eggs using this opportunity to make money but again if you look at the posture of this government, you will know that they will not tolerate such tendencies. We have a leader that epitomises integrity and love for country. If such happens, it will not be to the knowledge of the leadership. As you, its human nature to exploit institutions to their own advantage. That can happen but where it is known to the people in National Assembly, it will be exposed. In fact, on many occasions we have brought out motions to expose corruption and we advise government on the action to take and I am happy to say that we did it at one time regarding the Secretary to the Government of the of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the presidency acted. They conducted investigation and he is currently being prosecuted. Note too that it is one thing to make allegations, it’s another thing to prove it. Seriously, a
lot of things have been exposed and what the National Assembly did was just a tip of the iceberg. There were many infractions in the welfare of IDPs; even transportation of relief materials and purchase of relief materials. We found so many irregularities and we exposed them so that the executive can do the needful and they did.
That takes us back to the issues of electoral violence, Elections have always come with tales of violence in Nigeria since the early 60s to the extent that Nigeria’s disintegration was predicted to come with the 2015 polls. Luckily, it didn’t come to pass. But elections have always been seen as a delicate affair in Nigeria. Why is this so?
Those who are advocating for the dismemberment of this country because of election are prophets of doom and to a large extent they have been proven wrong. With their doomsday prophecy, they believe Nigeria will not survive beyond 2015 because of the way the country is captured. I am happy we proved them wrong. We had an election in 2015 and the winner was congratulated by the loser. That was the first time it happened in Nigeria. We are growing.
This is happening simply because the political culture in Nigeria is still not mature. There is need for political consciousness. There is need for political awareness and there is need for the elite to enlighten the electorate on their rights and their responsibilities particularly when it comes to election. This issue is the main reason politicians are exploiting the divisions among the different ethnic groups along with the different religious groups to perpetuate their dominance.
When you see two leaders quarrelling, they simply want to control political power. When it doesn’t work for them, they exploit our differences; ethnic, religion, geography and what have you but when they meet they don’t show those differences. They only use it to control the electorate. The electorate are ignorant of the main reason they are struggling is simply because they want to control political power. This has been happening since we gained independence. The only way we can stop is by embarking on enlightenment, constant education of the electorates to know their right. When we know this, we will have a mature political culture and people will vote based on the credibility and perceived competence of the person they are voting rather than on ethnic, religious or geographical divide. This is the Nigeria of our dream and I believe very strongly that we will see light at the end of the tunnel soon.
In the North-west, you are revered as a political father which places extra responsibility on your shoulders. One state from that region, Zamfara State, appears to be worst hit, particularly with the challenges of terrorism, banditry, how are you responding that?
I feel very concerned and very worried about the situation in Zamfara state. Zamfara is next door to Sokoto and Kebbi. Zamfara was carved out of Sokoto state just like Kebbi where I come from. We are one. Whatever affects one also affects the other. If you have destabilized Zamfara then you have certainly destabilized Sokoto and Kebbi. Some of this bandits are under heat now so they have extended or spread to both Sokoto and Kebbi, They are kidnapping, maiming and killing people in that axis. We are however doing everything possible to check the situation before it extends to other parts of the country. That’s why we suggested that there will be aerial surveillance of all the formations where this bandits are situated and I am happy the air force has responded positively they are conducting aerial surveillance and they have been identifying places where this bandit are stationed and they have been striking quite a number of them and they have been communicating to the ground troops who have made remarkable progress by making many arrests. A lot is going on, but people don’t know. We want is a total cessation of hostilities and return to normalcy to the area within the shortest possible time. Note too that these elements come from various places, Mali, Chad, Niger Cameroon, and many other places in Nigeria to team up with local criminals to perpetrate violence on the good people of the North-west.
Do you also have a militia in zamfara state?
The bandits are generally stationed in Zamfara state but because of the heat, which they have been subjected to constantly and recently by the military, they are now leaving Zamfara for Sokoto, Kebbi, Katsina and Kaduna state. They are spreading. Fulanis, generally are migratory, they don’t stay in one place; they are never sedentary so they move with their cattle looking for pasture so some of this cattle have been rustled by bandits, they have been dispossessed of their cows, monies and quite a number of them don’t have even a own place they can call village or town. They move from one place to another. As a result, some of them have embraced violence as a way of life and it is adding to what we have in Zamfara state and Kastina state. The Fulani you see that are rearing their cattle are harmless as far as we know but this phenomenon of bringing people from Niger, Mali where they give them training and carry AK 47 is giving Fulanis the attribute of a violent tribe, otherwise Fulani are peaceful people. They just move with their cattle and sticks. Occasionally, we see them with their knives but certainly not with AK47. In virtually every hamlet in Zamfara state and even in neighboring states, we have vigilante groups who are able bodied men that have been charged with the responsibility of monitoring movement of people and reporting any suspicious person for possible interrogation and if necessary handing over of such persons to the police or the military.
In the last election, from newspaper reports, at least 35 people lost their lives. There were also incidents of injured persons, burnt houses, even INEC offices were razed. This is becoming synonymous with our electoral life because measures are hardly taken against people that perpetuate these acts. Is it that we do not have enough legislative solution to curb this trend?
Let me take you back to the 2007 election, after inauguration, President Yar’Adua made a public statement that something was wrong with the 2007 election and he promised to set up a committee to find ways and means to have free, fair and credible elections in Nigeria and that led to setting up of the Justice Uwais committee and they made some recommendation on how we can have free and fair election. One of the recommendations is that anyone that commits electoral offences should be brought to book. Unfortunately, it didn’t see the light of the day. When government came to approve white paper that recommendation was dropped instead they said electoral offenders should be tried through the normal court processes. It was a mistake not to have accepted Justice Uwais recommendation. I think we should have electoral offences commission where offenders would be tried and prosecuted. That will go a long way in making sure that elections are conducted freely and fairly in Nigeria and we would have a government that is devoid of any violence.
A closer look at the remote and immediate causes of electoral violence shows that the same issues caused the 2015 violence, the same issues keeps re-occurring. Are there measures that can be taken to ensure that some of these things are nipped in the bud?
Number one, you must respect the constitution and the law of the country. If we do that, there will be no need to use violence in order to win elections. Unfortunately, the actors are not respecting the electoral acts and even the constitution that advocates for free and fair election to the extent that where we have violence in any state, constituency or in any polling unit the election there should automatically be canceled and if needs be voided, unfortunately INEC is not doing that. Secondly, there must be a deliberate attempt to embark on education in order to develop a political culture that will make people conscious of their right. People should be enlightened and know why they are voting for a particular person. If that happens, there will be no need to go out and fight. This is what is happening in advanced democracies. Nobody fights simply because they want to vote. Nobody will dies because, in fact voting should be a seamless exercise nobody should lose his or her life. Nobody should even be hurt because he wants to go out and vote. We do not respect the laws of the country. That’s why violence is taking place. Incidentally, even when offenders are caught, we don’t bring them to book to serve as a deterrent to others. We have to do all we can to make sure those who partake in violence are brought to book in other to prevent others from doing same.
Your eight year reign as governor of Kebbi State recorded very low incidents of violence. What did you do to keep the calm? Amnesty, it seem has become a ready measure being deployed by states as a way of stemming violence. Do you support his trend?
We have a very solid foundation that was laid during my administration. When I took over, I formed a government of inclusiveness. Note that I won election with five local governments out of 21. In 1998, local government election was conducted before national elections and out of 21 LGs, PDP won 16 and my party APP won only 5. I went round the whole state before the conduct of the LG election. I knew the outcome of that election was not a true reflection of the strength of APP.
I was never discouraged and luckily PDP had problem with their primary election; the man who won the primary election was not fielded by the party but somebody who didn’t win election was fielded as a gubernatorial candidate and that angered him and his supporters. They decided that since they were visited with injustice, they will rather support the candidate of the APP. I exploited that crisis in the PDP. That was how most of the politicians in the PDP decided to support me and that was how I won the election. Since I was conscious of how I came in, I decided to involve everybody. Once you put people to run affairs of the government, you will have peace. Deny them, there will be a lot of anxiety. A lot of acrimony and lots of tension. Some of the people were made commissioners, others advisers. I started with that foundation. We try as much as possible to hear and if there is anything negative, if there is any perception wrongly given, we try to correct it and if we make mistake we admit and do everything to correct it. At the time, we went for the 2003 elections, I won fair and square. In 2003 election, we started with the National Assembly election. All the eight House of Representatives seats were won by my party, ANPP
We also won the three senatorial seats that somehow demoralised that PDP. They came to Abuja fighting. We remained in Kebbi to prepare for the governorship election. While they were grumbling, we were in Kebbi arranging for governorship election and luckily for us we won the confidence of the people and I must tell you that we worked diligently and consciously to develop the state because we setup structures. We made impact in the education sector, in agricultural sector, rural development, roads construction all aspects of human endeavor, that’s why the people of Kebbi state voted for me in 2003 for a second term. Ultimately, that was the way of making them calm; then there was no restiveness
Do you have any personal experiences with violence that you may want to share?
I think it happened about five years ago. It was a common practice in my place for people to travel to the North-east for agricultural exploits. My people are known for planting onions. About 45 of them moved to a particular location in Borno state and it was during a day of Boko Haram thuggery. These people were ambushed and all 45 of them were slaughtered except one. They all had ID cards on them which were collected and handed over to the one that was spared, informing him that they had done jihad by killing 44 people, and that he should go and tell their relatives. When I heard about it, I rushed home from Abuja, to condole with the family. It happened in my town. Nothing can be done about it. We are still living with the consequences of that gruesome murder.
What has become of the man who wasn’t murdered?
He became psychologically disturbed. Government had to come in and get him rehabilitated. He is now becoming a normal person. But it’s not easy really to forget that kind of experience. During the killings in Jos, you know at that time it was the practice to convey dead bodies to the families for burial. Some dead bodies were brought back for burial, immediately those bodies were brought, it caused tension and people were moved to react violently. I was in the office, the local government chairman came and complained to me that this was happening. I immediately left the office with my convoy without even going with the Commissioner of Police or the director of SSS. I went straight into the town. People were being beaten. The non-indigenes escaped to the police stations, hospitals and some to the military barracks. In order to restore peace, I called together all the community leaders. Some churches were burnt, which gave the wrong impression that the Christian community was being persecuted. We reacted quickly and assured that it was nothing religious. We brought the religious leaders, the traditional institution, the community leaders together we sat down together with the Emir. We talked about peace and everybody was satisfied and that’s how we calmed everybody.
Because some churches were burnt, we had to use government resources to rebuild this churches. This has never happened in Northern Nigeria. I did this because I considered that to be gross injustice. Yes, government had to bear the cost of rebuilding the churches. I am happy I did it. I was really unbiased in my tenure
On many occasions we have brought out motions to expose corruption and we advise government on the action to take and I am happy to say that we did it at one time regarding the Secretary to the Government of the of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the presidency acted