The immediate past Chairman, House Committee on Defence in the 8th Assembly, Hon. Rimamnde Kwewum Shawulu (PDP-Taraba) in this interview with Wale Fasade speaks on the spate of insecurity, recent call to license citizens to bear arms, disruption of security institutions and current administration’s disposition to lingering crisis as well as constitutional amendment to pave way for cessation, among others. Excerpts:
Q: Taraba State Governor recently called of Federal Government to license qualified Nigerians to carry arms in self defence as a result of unabated killings of innocent Nigerians by killer herdsmen and bandits, do you support such call?
No, definitely no. The arms that are being used to kill people today, are not licensed arms. Licensed arms have a specification and conditions for usage. Number two, what we need actually is for government to take arms off people and not to multiply the guns that are on the streets. Guns don’t win wars, guns don’t resolve problems, people solve problems, and people use governments to solve problems. The Federal Government, State Governments, Local Governments and all the institutions of government combined need to wake up to the responsibilities that they have. We have a situation in the country today that is very disturbing; disturbing because it appears that the Federal Government, especially in the last five or six years, has been spectacularly biased towards a section of the people of this country. That naturally elicits the kind of response that the Governor of Taraba State and indeed other Governors have spoken of. You see, two wrongs don’t solve a problem. Personally, I do not believe that we need police force the way the Nigerian police is currently constituted. In the United Kingdom where we copied from, they don’t have an Inspector General of police who is in charge of everything, who commands 350,000 people.
And if you look at other advanced countries like the United States of America, even the Army and the Armed Forces are under commands of different types of people; you don’t have one person that takes all the decisions. Now when decisions are taken in those climes, these decisions are supposedly based on processes.
That is what is wrong with our system in Nigeria that human discretion, human intervention, have been brought to bear on security system. So, people who commit offences are allowed to go free and others are framed or charged for lesser offences. You also know that the phobia of government at both state and federal levels, federal government has created a condition where state governments or groups of states are forming security outfits and these security outfits have come in to fill the vacuum that is left and created by the weaknesses or the disruption of the institutions of the police, the security agencies and the military.
Now in my own view, what we need to do is to build our processes, to build our systems because systems will protect everybody. If you liberalise or democratize the availability of guns, you are only going to create anarchy. In fact, let me put it in another way, you are taking us back to the original state of man, where everyone is for myself and against all others – the Hobbesian where life was brutish and short. The system of government was developed that all weapons should be kept in one place, that is with the government. The state government was the only institution with the exclusive right to keep arms and these arms were used by government against people who were violating the rights and the privileges of law-abiding citizens. That’s how government developed, and we survived the two, three, five centuries of peace where all the weapons of war, in a rule-based system, where regulations prevail; institutions-imposed regulations on people. You have to obey road traffic; you could not take revenge; the state took the revenge on behalf of citizens. This was the period that we had unprecedented development in the economy, in technology and so forth.
So when you now want everybody to bear arms, you are going to take us back to the state of anarchy, where everyone was for himself against all. I think what we need to talk about is how do we build these institutions that will protect every person.
Q: But we are in a very critical situation as a country, where insecurity is staring everybody in the face, even Abuja is no longer secure. The authorities in charge seem to be failing in their constitutional responsibilities to the people. So should Nigerians fold their hands until they are consumed?
I do agree with you and that was why I said from the beginning that we have a situation that in the last five years in particular, that unfortunately suggest that the institutions of government have become biased and openly nepotistic in a manner we have never had it before in the history of this country, and I do also agree, and there are evidences to show that Nigeria has never been as divided as it is today along ethnic lines, along religious lines, to the extent that some people are claiming that Nigeria belong to them not to others and then some people are saying well, this part of Nigeria is our own and you have to leave our own.
We have a situation where Nigeria today, is the only place in the whole wide world where animals – cows roam the streets, even the streets of federal capital and why is it happening? This is happening because a certain people backed by government want to prove that they are the owners of Nigeria. And of course, that will naturally elicit the situation that we have at hand. The number of people who have been killed, and are being killed in the rural areas, we don’t have proper record of them. It is so high, shocking and embarrassing. The type of terrorism that happens around the country, is much higher than what happens in other parts, to the extent that if the world actually have the correct information about what is happening in our rural areas, Nigeria will rank the most terrorized country in the world, more than Afghanistan and other places; those places don’t have the type of generalized killings that we have in Nigeria today. And the only reason why we are not having people saying Nigeria is the most terrorized country in the world is because there is so much effort by the government to suppress the news about what is happening in the rural areas. There is hardly any state in the country today that people are not being killed. There are swathes of territories in some states, as we now know, like in the forests of Ondo, the forest of the south, many places in the Middle Belt and so forth that are under the control of terrorists. When the Governor of Nasarawa came to Abuja recently to say terrorists were in his state and his state borders Abuja and the Governor of Niger complained about similar thing. Right now, several villages in Niger State have recently been overrun by bandits.
We were seeing very bad pictures of bandits holding guns and talking with Governors and with Soldiers standing there. We are in a situation where you have bandits giving instructions to government institutions and clerics who are pleading with them to lay down their arms, so Nigeria is, as you said, very terrorized; perhaps the most terrorized country in the world today. The only reason why it’s not in the news is that American troops are not in Nigeria and the conflicts have not received the proper attention of the world. I want to assure you that the way things are going now, if we make the mistake or if we allow people to bear arms, the situation that we have in Afghanistan will be a child’s play in the country. So what we need actually is for this government to actually resign. All the propaganda and misinformation by government spokesmen and security agencies that some people are trying to create tension are just diversionary. People are responding like the Governor of Benue, the Governor of Ondo, the Governor of Taraba are responding worsening and very deep crises that have taken hold of most of the rural areas in Nigeria.
Q: Do you see this happening without the active role of the National Assembly? On the other hand, and can you vouch that the Executive arm will respond positively to such Parliament’s resolution, as in the case of countless calls for the removal of the Service Chiefs and overhaul the country’s security architecture?
Yes you have asked several questions in one but I will try to give answer to one, mainly about the resolutions and motions of the National Assembly on security agencies. You see a lot of the resolutions were that the Service Chiefs should be relieved. Well in my own opinion, I feel removing the Service Chiefs is only psychological; it’s not going to change anything because there is no person that is qualified to be Service Chief today that is not already in a command position and we are saying that these agencies have failed and you are bringing people who are part of the failure to lead. It’s not going to change anything in my own opinion. I think what we needed to do was that we should have insisted and compelled the President to follow the procedure of tenureship, so that the morale in the military would not be affected. For instance, both the Chief of Defence Staff and the Chief of Army Staff commanded the operations in the North East and we are saying that North East operation is a failure, so bringing people who are part of the failure doesn’t change anything, in my own opinion.
Number two is that the security situation in the country has been really bad, and has been not properly appreciated. I’ve had the opportunity to speak before and I did mention the fact that and I also moved a motion in the 8th Assembly where we took note of the fact that for a country with the size of Nigeria, with the type of security challenges that we have, the number of security personnel is too small. By 2015, the Army, said that in terms of manpower, the ratio of Soldiers to the land mass in the North East was a Soldier for each five kilometre. We don’t have enough security men on the street to even protect Nigeria; that is one. Besides the number of personnel, the security agencies are not adequately funded. We are not funding the military in Nigeria properly. The budget of the military in the United States was 51 percent of the whole budget of the United States and all other agencies of government shared the remaining 49 percent. By some account or analysis, we are supposed to have about 10 percent of our population as security men and women that is to say we are suppose to have about 20 million people in the police, in the Army, in the Navy and the rest of them, and the DSS . If you check all the security – the military and paramilitary agencies combined, the strength that we have is still way below 1 million. That is why when you go to most police stations, that you will discover that there are one or two policemen. Take a look at the budget of police for instance, you will see how much we budget for police to do operations or investigations. If cannot have that, that we have not planned for and this thing has been there for a very long time, it did not just start.
We thought that when this President was elected in 2015 as someone who has commanded a Division of the Nigerian Army and even became Head of State, he was going to pay attention to improving the military and other security agencies but that did not happen!
The other part that I need to mention is that we need to be able to ensure that people have confidence in the security. The security agencies need to be perceived to be impartial. Now look at how the SSS did sometimes ago in their recruitment. The accounts that were published and were not denied showed that they did recruitment and disproportionately gave higher number of opportunities to a section of the country.
Let me shock you, the law governing the SSS, the NIA and DIA is just a 3-paged law that cannot be amended by the National Assembly in the manner that the Constitution can be amended. The President can give any instructions for them to follow and they are governed by bye-laws that the President proclaims. So how do you expect such an agency to serve in the 21st century and do things properly?
Q: So are you in support of the call by various socio-cultural and other pressure groups for the suspension of the 1999 Constitution in order to pave way for new Constitution? Is that where the solution lies?
I do agree and my argument is simple. My argument is a response to people who say that you cannot discuss the dissolution or otherwise of this country and I have argued that in the first place, any association that does not have a clause for dissociation is a prison; it’s only a prison that you cannot go in and come out. Another point that I want to make is that, and this is simple history. There was a time that we had a country called Songhai, we had a country Kanem etc. There are many countries that were in the place that we call Nigeria now before it became Nigeria. We have so many countries today that were not there before! Countries come, countries go, countries mutate, countries change, countries become smaller, they scatter, they become bigger. They are simple historical facts. By the kind of the 19th century there were fewer countries in the world than we have today. Some countries like the Soviet Union dissolved into so many countries, Czechoslovakia dissolved also. There is nothing sacrosanct about the borders of any country or entity, they are just a part of historical process, they go, they come and they will change. There is nothing anybody can do about that. You can only temporarily halt or create problem you cannot stop that from happening.
Also, I want to say that some people give the impression that the bigger the better. It’s not simple. You can be small and better; you can be big and better. If people have come to a stage where t they say, we need to discuss, I think we should allow people to discuss. Perhaps in the discussion, we can resolve the challenges that are facing us in this country and mind you, the way the world is going, things that we did not see before we are seeing. Even in the United States today, there are demands for secession, California wants to go, and other states want to be independent. If you go to the UK today, Scotland wants to be an independent country and Ireland too wants to be an independent country, so they are just part of history. There is nothing anybody can do about that.
Q: But now that those in authority seem not to be listening to the public outcry, how do you think we can get out of this doldrum?
Well, I don’t know too. I actually wish that we do not have this situation that we have in this country today. What do I mean? The tension that we have in this country today, is unnecessary, if the leadership of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari had done what it was supposed to do; we would have had a situation where people will not be talking about what we are talking about today. For instance, the issue about the heads of the security agencies coming from one section of the country, the skewed employment processes that is happening and all those things; they need to be addressed. If they are not addressed people will keep talking about them, tension will keep rising. The people who are going about killing people in their homes and the rest of them need to be arrested and dealt with, that is the only way we can build confidence and say okay we are all together. But so far, when you now tell the Governor of Benue State that he should go and let his people live peacefully, people who are killing Benue people.
So what do you expect the people there to do? It’s because of these failures of government that you hear people talking about: let us have Oduduwa Republic, let us actualize Biafra, some people are talking about let’s have Niger Delta country, some are saying let’s have Middle Belt country, because of the fact that the President especially now has refused to own up to the fact that he is supposed to belong to every person. Of course, some people will argue and rightly so too, that there is no guarantee that only if you create an Oduduwa Republic there won’t be problems; Surely there will be problems there like every human endeavor, but it will be problems of a different direction not of the same thing that we have currently going on.