Former Niger state Governor Dr. Mu’azu Babangida Aliyu speaks on how he secured Niger State during his tenure against the background of the ongoing insurgency in parts of the state and the country. He tells Laleye Dipo that governments at all levels are not doing enough to tackle the menace
What you think about the current security crisis in the country?
The main responsibility of government is securing the lives and property of the people. Their welfare and all other things become secondary. We have seen the result of insecurity where people can no longer go to school, people can no longer go to their farms, people may not do their normal duties, and you cannot even travel from one town to the other. The funniest part of it is when you’re going from Abuja to Kaduna, you go to railway station and see the number of generals (military), the number of military officers, the number of police officers that are struggling with the common people to enter the train because they are afraid to follow the roads. Virtually in the northern part of the country, there is no road you can say you’re driving safely on, you are either told to drive in the daytime and avoid early morning and also evenings, but that in itself is a failure of the system, it is a failure of the government.
How did you manage the situation in Niger State as governor?
I’ll tell you what happened when we were there. It wasn’t that there were no challenges of insecurity, but for me in Niger State and as a chairman of Northern Governors Forum, I took it as a responsibility. The main duty of governance is to secure the lives and property of my people and I translated it this way, I took ownership of all the federal security establishments, whether they are involved in security of lives, or not, because to me, they are in Niger State to help the people of the state. I am talking about ditto DSS, police, military whether Air Force, or Army. We established, by law, the vigilante. Why? As I said, that is the major part of governance.
In addition, all the traditional institutions are paid by the government and they have all the paraphernalia of security and Intelligence gathering. At every corner where there are three or four houses, there is a representative of the Emir, from there to Mai Angwa, to Gunduma to village head to district head up to the Emirate council in every place. They know who passes by, who has stayed in one place, who is befriending who, who is sleeping with whose wife. These are all intelligence that you need. So for me, what is happening is becoming so difficult to appreciate or to understand, because with all these things that we have in place, the situation we are in now should not have been allowed to happen. So, when I say I owned all the federal establishments, yes I didn’t have the policeman, but I made sure they were doing what they were sent to Niger State to do.
I didn’t have to wait for the federal government to tell me to assist them. I made sure I bought all the equipment that they needed, I made sure that I bought all the vehicles that they needed, I made sure that every time I had insecurity issues I gave them money directly to go and do this and that and I made sure that at any given time when there was any exercise to be carried out I never allowed one half of the security to go and do it alone. No, the military the police the SSS, the Civil Defence will all go together each one carrying out its own responsibilities. Many times I have to hired helicopters to go round where we were having problems, particularly where there are more problems now in Niger State, from Munya, Shiroro Local Government Area and Rafi Local Government Area. I have had to send, many at times, helicopters to go around and wherever they saw a group of people, they will go down and find out who the people were.
So, the insecurity problem was there even when you were in government?
It was there but it was not to the magnitude that we have today. There were some issues, but I made sure we stationed both military and all those security agencies, and gave them what they require. There is a normal ration for soldiers when you want them to go for a particular exercise, the police and everybody. I related very well with the leadership of those agencies so that they understand what you are doing is not partisanship; this is about the protection of lives and property of the people.
I established something then that I thought would have continued. We had 274 Wards in Niger State and I established what I called Ward Development Projects through that too, because for each ward we select seven people to run the affairs of that ward and we give them money to do other things. I was gathering information also from what they were doing. Remember the infamous or famous Mokwa issue in 1991. I understood from what I read in the files that about nine people went to a village in Mokwa, and asked the village head to give them a place because they wanted to farm and also do their religious activities. By 2007 when I arrived, there were over 5,000 people in that place and they had constituted themselves into what you can call a republic. In fact, they were calling themselves Darusalam.
They were so cocooned that unless you are a member you will not be there. Any armed robbery on the Mokwa-Kaduna Road, anything that was happening there, was linked to them. I read in the files when two Immigration officers that were sent there on investigation became their members. They were going around stealing people’s wives and children and they have their own lives different believing that anybody that was not a part of them is not a Muslim. I discovered that many governors tried to dislodge them, but anytime they were either brought to Abuja or elsewhere they went back to Mokwa stronger. I was lucky when I discovered what was happening. We went to take the census of everybody, and I discovered more than 60% of them were not Nigerians.
Even the ones that were Nigerians, not up to 10% were from Niger State. I called the northern governors meeting and I told all the governors that I was going to disperse all these people, but because of their belief system they should never allow them to congregate in one place. I got the support of the President the late Umaru Yar’adua, the then national Security adviser and it was a joint operation. I compensated everybody; these more than 5,000 people, the ones that I had to take to the border, people from Mali and co, I took them by buses and handed them their compensation and they moved on. As for the ones from other states of Nigeria, I called the governors and handed them over and it worked beautifully well.
What is the way out of the security crisis?
The way out for the moment and for me is education, and enlightenment. The campaign is not going to be the normal one, where you go to the town and have rallies; you now have to go to the nooks and crannies of the society to the house of people to enlighten them as to what is happening on the ground and what they can do to save themselves. If you don’t do that, because many people easily give up. Many people think what is happening to them is because God is punishing them. Those of us who understand these things must go out there, regardless of the consequences or whatever to enlighten the people so that they can now appreciate that now the action is in their hands.
Sheikh Gumi is in the forefront of dialoguing with some bandits, is this nice step to take?
Look in every issue, particularly the situation we are in now, there is the need to use the stick and carrot, but people who would want to engage in that, what is their moral standing, what is their stake and do they even understand what is happening? We need more of stick now than the carrot, you use the carrot more after you are beginning to defeat the so called enemies, to bring him back because the whole idea is not to annihilate him. For me, whether Gumi succeeds or not is not the issue but there should be a window because that is also another level of intelligence. Anytime Gumi meets with these people or negotiate with these people, you come and brief the authorities, but that must not be the issue. You don’t go to negotiate with people when they know your weakness. If a governor takes money to bandits or stands there like an ordinary person, with bandits holding their guns all around him and making him look foolish, that is not negotiation, unless you know more than you are telling us. Yes, using carrot and stick is good but we must be careful who we discuss with.
Do you support amnesty for repentant bandits?
Depending on the process that they repented, because there is repentance as a result of the realisation that what you have been doing was wrong, and then you must understand what brought that change, not because people have found it difficult to do what they were doing, they say we repent, and we now give them amnesty. No, when they regroup they will go back again. We must be careful. I noticed what is happening also with the Boko Haram amnesty or rehabilitation. You cannot rehabilitate or give amnesty to the kind of person you have not been able to understand. What made him to be doing what he was doing? So yes, as a concept, that is very good, as a concept, we will encourage that, but in the first place, why should anybody go round with AK47 in our country, why?
Do you support the Governors Forum’s decision that there should be a ban on open grazing?
This is a decision we took between 2008 and 2009. So, I am happy that they have come round now to the same decision. If you look at the nature of herding that they are involved in now, it is even a waste of resources. You take a cow from Birnin Kebbi to Calabar on foot, before you get there even the meat has become strong. All over the world now, it is only in West Africa and some parts of East Africa that are still doing open cattle herding. When we were in the Governors Forum, we took this position for ranching. In fact, at that time, even the Minister of Agriculture who is now the President of the African Development Bank had everything in place, but when the new government came they threw it out and came up with what they call Ruga and now they are back to the ranch. Still people need to be assisted because there are still problems on the ground, particularly involving even those Fulani who are peaceful. We need to sit down, every state must look at its own peculiarities and work out the land tenure system for the Fulani, of farmers and co, and must begin to give certificate so that people can use it as collateral to really become more mechanised in the country.
Without being dubbed as interloper, will you support the ongoing revalidation/registration of members by APC?
I think whatever it is that they are doing, they probably got it wrong or maybe they are confirming to us that all along they had no registered members of the party, and that it is now they are going to have it, or like others are saying, maybe they are using it to sift and remove supporters of other people. Whatever it is, if they call it revalidation that may be fine, but if they use it only to lie about their figures, because I’ve seen them already saying they are the largest party in Africa. We have seen where they have started registering children. I don’t know what that will serve because party registration is separate from voter registration and I don’t believe that other parties will be so useless as to allow one particular party no matter what its strength, no matter what its resources, no matter what level of corruption, will allow such to beat everybody. So, let them do whatever they want to do maybe they have nothing else to do. You see they don’t have a structure; everything is caretaker from the ward to the national. In other words, we actually don’t have APC on the ground in real fact and by law.
People have suggested that Rivers State Governor Nyesome Wike has hijacked the PDP. What do you think?
I don’t know about hijacking the party. I think maybe because he talks a lot, maybe that is why people are little concerned about what he says. There is no one person that can hijack a party. The worst thing that can happen is you hijack, I leave you, ok. I am not bound by you, I am bound to the party because of my choice, and I am sure some of us, if we say today because somebody has worsened the situation for us, we are leaving, then many people will leave. So for me, I don’t see it that way, I see it as he is preparing way for negotiation in the future.
Why is the PDP not able to declare where the presidency will go in 2023?
Is it time, or must we do it when it is not time? Leave us, we are looking. Look you don’t put yourself in a straight jacket, like somebody will tell you the law is made for the man ok. We agreed that we wanted unity, and that was why we said that there must be zoning so that everybody will have a feeling of I belong, everybody will now be integrated as one community. That is the whole essence of zoning. Again, the primary purpose of a political party is to win elections but you become careful when you do your arithmetic and you discover that by zoning it to a particular area you may lose that election.
Do you think PDP will buy into the demand by the South-east for presidency?
I hate this blackmail. Has North-central ever produced a president yet, we are talking of North-South, we are not talking of South-east or North-central or North-west. Even within the North, the North-east has not produced the President, North-central has not produced and the zoning was not meant for “Zonal”, it was meant for North and South. It is not nice to use blackmail tactics to get something. Anybody who feels we must blackmail to get it is not serious. If we are electing, we are not going to elect Igbo President or a North-central President we are going to elect a Nigerian President.
Where will that person come from as far as PDP is concerned?
That is immaterial now. At the moment, we are discussing, we are consulting, we want to win elections and we must do this thing rationally without iota of blackmail, without iota of intimidation. We must all sit down and say yes, if we agree on this all of us must come on board.
Do you think you will all agree?
By the grace of God. If we don’t agree, APC will kill us all.
What should we expect from Babangida Aliyu come 2023?
Me? I will pray I will beg God to make us succeed. For me as a person, what happens in 2023 is for God to decide.