Current socio-political tension in the country calls for a national reconciliatory conference where pressing national issues will be debated, says Professor of International Law, Emmanuel Esiemokhai. He explains that President Muhammadu Buhari’s approach to governance provokes interests in future of the country and the “new political order.” He speaks on Buhari’s decision to swap Chibok girls for insurgents, report of last administration’s National Confab, nation’s economic downturn, Buhari’s appointments, Emir Sanusi’s recent outburst against the President in this interview with Political Correspondent, Marcus Fatunmole.
What is your view on Federal Government decision to swap missing Chibok girls with Boko Haram insurgents?
The problem of Boko Haram is a very complicated one. It has both political and religious dimensions; which are irreconcilable. I think fire brigade style of thinking will not advance the course of the problem. The origin of the problem in the first place is dissatisfaction by a group of Nigerians who felt that they were not getting the best out of the country. It is the same dissatisfaction that resulted in the Biafra movement, the Niger-Delta movement, the Afenifere. All these dissatisfaction can only be solved through national dialogue. It is not good politics to recourse to force always in a country that needs money to feed its own people, repairs a broken wall and bridges, uplift the nation. It is not doing itself any good by fighting wars, by bombing dissidents.
Let there be national conference to reconcile Nigerian nationalities. Everybody should be represented at this national conference. People have the right to speak out to say what they don’t like. And, then, there will be negotiation between the nationalities and not one group feeling so empowered that they can dictate what should be done.
The Boko Haram problem should have been nipped in the bud many years ago, but we are all disappointed to see under the Jonathan regime, military chiefs who were supposed to use money to quell the crisis embezzled the money. So, that is how the Boko Haram thing dragged on until they now captured the Chibok girls. Then, the parents of the Chibok girls feel very embittered that nothing is being done, two years later that the young girls have been abducted. Many of them have died. Don’t we as a nation have conscience? It is only when it concerns us personally that we show concern. There should be a national policy on virtually everything. And, that national polity should be a work of committee. Nobody knows it all, nobody is a god. People just wake up in the morning and decree, either the price of petrol or people who will be disciplined, or people who should be bombed, that is not how a nation is governed.
Those who benefit from this type of aggressive governance are the arms dealers, and those who sell military tanks. And, destruction that these things cause takes time to be rebuilt. Take for example, Port Harcourt in Rivers State, if Abuja can come to life after some 20 years, and Port Harcourt is still what it was in 1945, then, there is a disparity, and we must face the truth. Only the truth can set Nigeria free. To pretend that we don’t know the people who are agitating have no argument, it is not correct. And, that must be said. So, those who are fighting for various concerns, their agitation must be listened to in conference centre and not on the battle field.
In specific terms, is swapping the girls for Boko Haram members an ideal thing for Nigerian government?
The question is as complicated as the issue of which came first, the chicken or the egg? If you say Boko Haram should be released in lieu of the Chibok girls, how many Chibok girls are you going to release for Boko Haram? See the whole thing is in a mess. In my judgment, it is not something that government just succumbs and accepts. Let us set up a committee that will openly discuss it at the national conference and know how the decision will be arrived at. When government unilaterally takes decision like that, it depicts the people as docile. The people are not being carried along; and the government governs the people.
Any government that always disregards the people and issues out policy statements which must be enforced is dictatorial. These are issues that should be ironed out. We have a lot of intelligent people in this country who are sidetracked for one reason or the other. So, which came out first, the chicken or the egg? If you swap Chibok girls for Boko Haram, then, the next thing, how are you sure that they won’t capture more girls? So, it not a solution, the solution lies in what the Boko Haram people want. Many of them, I understand, are graduates who are just dissatisfied with the political order. How do you solve their problems? They are not all fanatics. It doesn’t mean that anybody who does not support government is a bad person, because from dissents, the best can come out of a nation.
But, if you are always right and every other person is always wrong, it doesn’t amount to good logic. So, this question is very difficult to give a straight answer.
President Buhari has reiterated his earlier declaration to treat militants in the Niger-Delta region the way he is treating Boko Haram. Do you think doing so is a good option for government?
It cannot be a good option for government to kill many Nigerians for dissenting. It is not good politics. What are the Niger-Delta people asking for? Even the Yar ‘Adua policy of granting them amnesty was a light-red decision. If it had been discussed at the national conference, there would have been no need to please dissidents. You give them what is their due, and there would be no need favouring them. Now, you sent them abroad to study, you gave them scholarship, you gave them money, they were not working for the money. They studied abroad, and are still living in the creeks, and they are still in the same situation they were many years ago. So, we have to investigate the origin of their discontent. When you say you are going to treat Niger-Delta like you are treating Boko Haram, it is illogical. You are just going to waste human lives. And, now, those they call avengers are causing a lot of troubles through the destruction of very source that every Nigerian depends upon – oil.
You don’t use a razor, cut your face, try to injure yourself for whatever reason; you don’t fight yourself through that. The solution is national conference to be attended by the nationalities. And, this can be done by some scholars. You could assemble professors, former politicians, former permanent secretaries and the likes. These are people who have governed this country before. This is not the first time they are governing Nigeria.
These mistakes were historical mistakes that were made. Now, to take this type of decision doesn’t solve our problem.
How about the report of last National Confab yet to be considered by the Federal Government?
The conference you referred to, which was organized by Azinge, the wife, and the Nigerian Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, was to pacify the Nigerian elites. If you watch some of those people that were invited to the conference, they never contributed anything. They just collected their millions and walked away. If you read through the document itself, it is a disappointment. I support the government not to implement it. It was a strategy to return Jonathan to power. He tried to please the Nigerian elite.
Some of those people didn’t know what the whole thing was all about. It was just a conference that was designed to put money in the pocket of the elite. ..
The type of conference I am talking about now is not a conference where you have 50 or 60 people, just pick ministers who served in the first republic who are still alive, retired professors from universities, make it their lifetime work; a standing committee on Nigeria problems. All social, economic and all forms of problems can be solved by this group. All of them currently do nothing, they are idle, they are old, but they can give advice.
Are you convinced the small group you are recommending could represent the interest of heterogeneous Nigerian nation?
Yes. What you do is that you don’t need to have just one conference; you have a series of national conferences. Issue that cannot be discussed by one group, the second group will take up the issue. If it is population, one group will take population, if it is politics, we know who is in charge and what has been done; they start from a historical viewpoint to examine issues objectively. Then, if they finish that, they will go another issue such as education.
From the way you talk, you seem to have been disenchanted with president President’s government. Why the sudden change?
I was not actually supporting the president. But, I had a lot to write about the Jonathan administration. And, in looking at the shortcomings of the Jonathan administration, people could imagine that it was a question of supporting the president. The Jonathan administration allowed Nigeria to be destroyed. In fact, the destruction of Nigeria was as a result of what Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Jonathan did to Nigeria. So, when I was commenting, and I did comment a lot about what was going on at that time, by default, people thought I was on the side of the president.
As a fair-minded commentator, you cannot be partisan. After all, I have gained nothing from Buhari becoming president. If you look at my articles, you see that I always take a balanced position, because I don’t have anything to gain by being partisan; that is not scholarship.
And, if you even support change, and that change has turned to another thing, for example, some people have the impression that appointments in Nigeria favour a class. Even the so called northerners, many of them are disenchanted with the way appointments have been made. Now, you don’t favour people just because of either religion or ethnicity, you appoint people who are competent, who can do the work. When they do the work, others will benefit. But, to put round pegs in square holes, it took six months for this government to gather ministers.
Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, recently criticized the president and told him his government might end infamously like his predecessor’s. Do you think president Buhari is living up to the expectations of Nigerians?
Buhari has good intention when he took over power, he meant well. Like Odigie, the chairman of APC, said, apparently, they did not understand the enormity of the catastrophe within the Nigerian society. They didn’t envisage that people would be stealing billions of naira. They didn’t know that the whole infrastructure of governance was so bastardized. They didn’t have an appreciation. And, then, before they took over, they should have set up a committee. Right now, the APC has no cadre. They don’t have people who will take over from them. And, I cannot see APC winning the next election, because the people are disgruntled, the party doesn’t seem to have a national policy on anything.
It is true that those who are corrupt would never support Buhari. And, those who are corrupt would never like what he is doing. But, let me tell you, if the PDP had come back to power, by now, Nigeria would have been in a state of civil war because all those who stole billions and who shamelessly have paid the money back, and are shamelessly talking of coming back, this country will not tolerate that.
Emir Sanusi is one of Nigeria’s foremost economists; he understands the issues you have mentioned. He yet criticized the government. What do you think could have gone wrong?
Sanusi is an intelligent person. He is not just an ordinary Emir who got it through tradition. He has run the Nigerian economy from the Central Bank, and he did his very best. For him to have criticized the president the way he did suggests that he is genuine. Other Emirs would have kept quiet because, at least, they will be getting ‘Ghana must go’ or other things. In Nigeria, once you know you can be getting favour from the government, you don’t talk. People like Emeka Anyaoku, who would have descended on Jonathan to tell him to do good was always going there paying courtesy visits. And, then, people like Mattew Kukah and Abdusalami, these were people who should have used the whole National Council on State, they failed to tell Jonathan that what he was doing was wrong. It was because each time they went, they were getting money for medicals. And, these monies were in millions.
But, we now have a voice. When the American Secretary (of State) visited Sultan of Sokoto, I don’t think the discussions were made public, but the trend is very frightening, because if we continue in this way, it is going to get worse. So, what will solve the problem is for people (in leadership) to be humble, not to be arrogant; to listen to criticisms and change the course of Nigeria because we are heading for the rocks…
So, Buhari should listen to the advice of the Emir of Kano, he should listen to the advice of those who said we should restructure Nigeria.
Kerry visited Nigeria, headed straight first to the Sultan and then to the State House. Christian Association of Nigeria is alleging islamization by the government. Do you think this is true?
I don’t know what Kerry told the Sultan of Sokoto. But, when I read some articles where people are complaining that the trend is toward islamization, and you begin to see indices pointing to that, you cannot help but interpret the Kerry’s visit to the Sultan of Sokoto and his visit to president Buhari as a warning. I remember during the election, people were raising this issue, and as a result, were raising alarm about Buhari becoming president. Now, those who didn’t believe are now beginning to have doubt. So, we must stop broadening our views. Rule Nigeria democratically. Consult with the people. Use peaceful method so that Nigeria will not enter into a vicious circle. This is because in the long run, all the people will suffer. There is no need to force any religion on anybody, and God has not asked anybody to fight on His behalf, because He can fight for Himself.
What is your view on president Buhari’s appointments so far?
I have monitored the trend of appointing people to high offices in Nigeria. I was of the opinion that in a federal republic, only the best should be appointed, not cronies, not yes men. Since we have 36 states, every state governor should be able to hold a small referendum to see who is the best to be appointed to help Nigeria gain acceleration in a right direction? Now, using appointment as an instrument of political sovereignty will cause discontent. I have seen names of Nigerians holding high offices who have never written an article in the Nigerian newspaper, who has never given a public lecture on Nigeria politics, who has never discussed politics in any way, being catapulted to high offices. If you watch America, if you watch Britain, those people who come out to be ministers are people who have been in the system for a very long time, studying in-county. ..
It is time for a total change of cabinet. I thought that the six months he used to search, he would have gotten the best. But, I am telling you frankly, the people he chose, all of us are raising eyebrows. And, the people who are playing the role of APC are not better than their PDP counterpart.
President Buhari had urged former military President, Ibrhahim Babangida, in a magazine publication recently to tell Nigerians why he forcefully removed him from office in 1985 through a coup. Do you think Buhari can probe IBB as some speculate?
In geometry, there is a maxim by Euclid (which says) things that are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. Now, I am amazed with the composition of those in power in Nigeria. Many got there by overthrowing government that was democratically elected. Many got there through coup d’état.
In 1966, the military then were serving as Aide-de-Camp to ministers, and he saw how the ministers were stealing money. Then, they were brainwashed by their colonial officers to overthrow the government of Nigeria. The best governments in Africa were that of Zik, Awolowo, Sardauna of Sokoto, Tafawa Balawa.
When the majors took over power, they discovered they could make policies, they could make money. So, it became a relay race. Gowon and Danjuma overthrew Aguiyi Ironsi, Murtala overthrew Gowon, there was democratic dispensation after Murtala died, that was after Obasanjo had taken over. He handed over to Shagari. Shagari was overthrown by Buhari, a democratically-elected government, which itself constitutes criminal offence – high treason.
Now, he survived. Babangida overthrew Buhari in the same military relay race of who will take over and make good. And, from what we have seen, many of them became very rich, built houses on hilltops, they were so powerful that they could gather some people and form political parties. Talking about legality or constitutionality, it is a fake notion. Those who committed crimes themselves are the ones who talking about what crimes others have committed. So, it is like a pot calling kettle black.
If you want to try somebody for crimes he committed years ago, you have to talk about statute of limitation, you have to be able to gather documents, except it is going to be vindictive, like saying ‘I am now there, I can do what I like.’
That being the case, either we let sleeping dogs lie, or if you want to talk about revolutionary review of Nigeria from 1966, then that is impossible, because the people who are going to do that are the people themselves who are the culprits. It is just that this country doesn’t have the ability to speak the truth. We are partial in our deliberations, we are docile, we are not going to say anything just because we fear. That was one of the things l learnt from Tai Solarin and Wole Soyinka.
Most Nigerians are afraid because of the viciousness of the Nigerian society. To talk about trying people, you have to go down the line to 1966. At least, you can try them and leave them as historical records, but not that you want to punish those who have died.