Third Republic Senate President, elder statesman and a member of the National Caucus and Board of Trustees, BoT of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, Senator Ameh Ebute, CON, in this encounter, answers questions on the several issues befalling the Nigerian State, including its politics, security issues and the problem of restructuring and zoning of the 2023 presidential slot. To him, not only South-East should be considered for the presidency in 2023.
The North-Central and North-East deserve a look-in. Noting that the civil war (1967 to 1970) was contained within three years, he expressed surprise that the Boko Haram crisis and other banditry killings cannot be contained by our security agencies since 2009.
There are calls that the presidency be zoned to the South-East in 2023. Do you support this agitation?
From what I read over the pages of newspapers, there are calls for the zoning of the Presidency to the South-East, North-Central and the North-East zone or the Presidency should be based on competence and integrity. My take on this issue is that the Presidency should be zoned to those zones that have never produced the President before, namely, South-East, North-Central and North-East.
Talking in terms of the cumulative periods, the Presidency has remained in the Southern zones for 14 years (being occupied by Former Presidents Obasanjo and Jonathan) while by 2023 when Buhari completes his second term, the Presidency would have remained in the Northern zone for only 10 years, having been occupied by Former President Yar’Adua and President Buhari. Considering other factors such as important offices held and neglect of zones, it could have been fair and just to zone the Presidency to the North-Central.
President Muhammadu Buhari is blaming shortage of funds and COVID-19 for his inability to tackle Boko Haram insurgency. What do you think?
I have not heard either from radio news or from any print media that President Buhari is blaming shortage of funds and COVID-19 for the continued existence of Boko Haram. It is not the question of scarcity of resources to contain Boko Haram, I think it is the international dimension of the activities of Boko Haram that is prolonging their final defeat. Boko Haram crisis started as far back as 2009 and President Buhari came to power in 2015, while COVID- 19 surfaced in Nigeria in December 2019.
Therefore, I do not think it is the shortage of funds due to the expenses of government on COVID-19 that is causing the delay in defeating Boko Haram. Boko Haram activities are being supported by some international terrorist organizations such as ISIS and ISWAP which is making it difficult to put them out of operation.
All I have heard the President saying is that he will do all in his power and allocate enough resources for the defeat of Boko Haram. I think and believe that the defeat of Boko Haram is a matter of time in Nigeria.
Many are beginning to think that government is sponsoring or deliberately condoning what is happening in southern Kaduna and other places where bandits and general insecurity is reigning. Is it possible?
I cannot say categorically that the insecurity in Southern Kaduna and other places are being supported by the government. This is because as a lawyer, I believe in evidence before coming to conclusion whether the allegations are true or false. In the case of Southern Kaduna, Nigerians are of the opinion that the state government is sponsoring or deliberately condoning the incessant killings in Southern Kaduna because of the lackadaisical manner in which the Kaduna State government deploys security agencies to the areas affected.
The people of Southern Kaduna and the Kaduna State Government are invariably aware of pending attacks on various communities, yet no decisive actions are taken by the state government to effectively check the activities of the bandits. This approach makes people to think that the state government is deliberately condoning what is happening in Southern Kaduna.
As far as the activities of bandits in other places are concerned, it is a matter of great concern for every Nigerian. This banditry have spread to many places in the northern parts of the country and even in some parts of the south at this particular point in time. What is surprising about the banditry activities is that communities embark upon mayhem against communities all in the name of banditry attacks.
This issue of banditry and insecurity in the country should be committed to the hands of Almighty God to put an end to them. This is because it is not possible for the security agencies to be present in all the nooks and crannies of all the remote areas of the country to contain outbreaks of banditry activities. I think that a renewed unity of citizens of Nigeria so that every section of the country will have a sense of belonging will go a long way in solving the bandits problem.
There are local vigilante groups all over Nigeria. Is that these are no longer effective?
Vigilante groups all over the country are not adequately equipped to effectively challenge the bandits. They are not adequately equipped with the right weaponry to face the enormous challenges of violence.
In many communities, the vigilante groups are part and parcel of the insecurity because some of the members are local cult, school drop-outs and miscreants who, instead of providing security, constitute insecurity themselves in many ways.
If Nigerians have to rely on vigilante groups to provide solution for the insecurity in the country, their existence has to be made more formal so that adequate allocation of resources are made to the groups and their membership and recruitment are vetted by the Authorities.
You are from the Middle Belt. How do you feel about these things especially when your party, the APC is in power?
Yes, I am from the Middle Belt and I do not think or feel that what is happening is peculiar to the Middle-Belt. It is also not the fault of the APC as a political party in power now. This insecurity occurs irrespective of which party is in power. The Boko Haram insurgency started in 2009 when PDP was in power but it couldn’t bring it to an end.
What are big shots like you doing to protect your people?
Your definition of the term ‘big shot’ is subject to many interpretations. I, in my capacity as a former Senator, Former Senate President and a lawyer, what I’m doing to protect my people is embarking on the enlightenment campaign of the people, informing them that the situation in Nigeria has changed and that Nigeria is not as it used to be. It is not lawful to begin to buy arms for the people to protect themselves because the possession of fire arms is illegal. My ability to provide protection for my people is limited since ordinary citizens are not allowed to bear arms.
It is believed that land is the reason for the killings. Do you think so?
I agree that disputes over land are some of the causes in some places that informed the killings. For example, in a number of local government areas in my state Benue, people are fighting themselves in Oju and Apa local government areas over land disputes. One cannot see the reason for this land dispute because land spaces have not become smaller than what it used to be, maybe the campaign of government to go back to farming is the reason for land dispute.
With what is happening, isn’t it obvious that the so-called monolithic North is gone?
Nigerians, having lived together for over 100 years, should now be able to put behind them geographical monolithic beliefs. We should now see ourselves as Nigerians, whether from the North or from the South. In countries like UK, US and many other developed countries, North, South or East are regarded as mere geographical expressions, not affecting considerations in the choice of political and administrative offices. That is the situation that I now want to see in Nigeria. So, I agree with you in totality that the idea of monolithic North or South should be completely discarded and disregarded. Nigerians’ loyalty should be to the country as a whole. This will go a long way to foster unity in the country.
Will the North ever be the same again?
The issue of the North being the same again should not arise. My feeling about killings in Nigeria is a very sad one, because I am old enough to remember my experiences in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and part of 90s when there were absolute tranquility, peace and harmonious existence in resulting in the continued existence of the country till date.
The unity of purpose to preserve the existence of the country as a single entity was firmly demonstrated from 1967 to 1970 when I was a police man. And if the crisis that led to the civil war from 1967 to 1970 could be contained within three years, I am then surprised that Boko Haram crisis and other banditry killings could not be contained by our security agencies since 2009.
This is what led to the belief that Boko Haram and banditry killings have both national and international dimensions militating against Boko Haram’s early defeat and banditry killings in affected areas. I disagree with you that violence will come to my area some day because violence is already present in Benue State, and if violence happens to be in other states of the federation, I take it that it is already present within my area since we are one Nigeria.
Will you say this government is committed to protecting Nigerians?
It is my firm belief that the Federal Government is seriously committed to protecting Nigerians from these insurgent activities. No government will take the issue of the security of its citizens lightly, because if she does so, violence will consume the government and drive it out of office by attacking the seat of government. Evidence that government is serious in protecting the lives of Nigerians can be gleaned from the amount of resources, both human and natural, that has been committed in containing the violence.
Is there anything you think the National Assembly can do?
The National Assembly has done and is doing and will continue to do much in the fight against insurgencies. This is done by the many and varied resolutions of the National Assembly, condemning the situation in the country in terms of insecurity and by voting adequate funds to the Executive Arm of government to buy the required armaments to fight the bandits. The National Assembly also assists by making laws that facilitate proper executions of policies that will bring an end to the insurgences and violence.
There have been calls to sack the service chiefs and appoint new ones. What’s your take on that?
Having served in the Paramilitary Force before, I know the difficulties that can be on the way of the security agencies in bringing enemies to book. I do not believe that the change of service chiefs per se, is the only step that will lead to the timorous defeat of Boko Haram, ISWAP and banditry activities in Nigeria.
I am of the opinion that committing enough resources to the appropriate agencies and the recruitment of suitable man power are necessary. After all, service chiefs have been changed from time to time and we have not seen any serious differences in the performances of old and new service chiefs.
What do you think could change the Nigeria situation?
Any changes in the present Nigeria situation depend on you and me and on the over 200 million Nigerians. That is the beauty and necessity for democracy as a system of government which, by the grace of God, has been firmly established in Nigeria since 1999. The greatest problem facing our nation is our value system which places emphasis on materialism or money rather than on merit and performance.
This wrong value system has misled millions of Nigerians into believing that once you have money, whether it was legitimately acquired or looted from government treasury, you would have made the greatest achievement in the life of Nigerians. Why we are unable to do things that most countries have done is that corruption in all it’s ramifications has been entrenched in all the facets of Nigeria’s life.
That is why the present administration of President Buhari, one of whose manifestos is a fight against corruption, is finding it extremely difficult to have an effective means of exposing, fighting and persecuting corrupt officials. As the saying goes, the corrupt officials are always fighting back because of the wrong value system that places emphasis on money. So the ability to change Nigeria to a better country lies on the entire over 200 million Nigerians.
Once Nigerians realize that corruption is the greatest problem, they will stop worshipping people who have acquired money by means of looting government treasuries. Once the evil of corruption is realized by the majority of Nigerians, it becomes possible for only people of integrity to be elected into offices.
In this respect, I doff my hat for the present administration that has made a start at all for fighting against corruption. It is my sincere hope that the fight against corruption by this administration will be sustained and that any person taking over the administration from 2023 should be a man of integrity who can continue with the fight that has now been started and even improved upon.
It will be unfortunate to elect any money bag President or looter President to take us back to the status quo that existed before 2015. Once corruption is fought to a standstill, then all other aspects of development of the country will in place. This is what I think will be capable of changing the situation in the country.
Are you still thinking of one Nigeria or is it an illusion?
I’m not only still thinking about one Nigeria but I firmly believe in one indivisible and indissoluble sovereign Nigeria. After having expended our energies and resources to fight the South East Zone for three years to keep the country one, we cannot afford to allow any section or zone to believe that this country can be split. The case of the South East Zone has created the precedent which must be followed at all times. One Nigeria is therefore not an illusion at all.
You have not been politically active. What are you doing?
I am not a busy-body politician, who, though not having anything reasonable to talk about, keeps playing to the gallery on the pages of newspapers. First and foremost, I’m a legal practitioner of 45 years post call and I still practise law when I’m not occupying any political office. I’m a member of the National Caucus of the APC (All Progressive Congress) and also a member of the BOT of the party and when invited, I attend the meeting of these two organs. So, that is not to say that I’m no longer active in politics. I advise members of my political party when such advice is sought.
How do you react to expressions of disappointment over Buhari’s handling of the country’s affairs?
People are entitled to express their personal opinions on the handling of affairs of any administration in power. My personal opinion is that I’m not disappointed over the handling of affairs of the country by the present administration and as I said earlier, I doff my hat for the achievements of the present administration so far in the areas of voting huge amounts for money, roads construction, railway construction, improvement and establishment of tertiary institutions etc. and most especially, for starting the fight against corruption and I submit that it will be a shame for any incoming administration to take Nigeria back to unchecked and disgraceful corruptions.
It is believed APC is against restructuring. Why?
As I said earlier, I’m only a member of the National Caucus of the APC and also a member of the BoT which has never been inaugurated. I’m not a member of NEC or the National Working Committee of the APC. I cannot say or express any opinion as to whether the APC supports restructuring or not.
Do you support restructuring? What does it mean to you?
I want to say that the contents for any proposed restructuring will make me either to support restructuring or not. Restructuring, in my opinion, is any arrangement generally accepted by the majority of Nigerians which is capable of making Nigerians, irrespective of tribes and religions, feel that there is freedom, equality, justice and fairness in the country as provided for in Section 17 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended).
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