One man, one gun; one woman, one rifle. The above, Professor Itse Sagay appears to be saying, might be the panacea to Nigeria’s seemingly untameable security crisis, as insurgents, bandits and other criminals continue to seize the country by the jugular.
Given the worsening insecurity situation in the country, the Chairman of Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), Prof. Itse Sagay has called on the President, the National Assembly and all concerned authorities to empower every Nigerian to carry arms. It will help to make for a balance of terror, he insists, in the current situation whereby the country is gradually sliding into a Hobbesian state where life is brutish and where might is right, no thanks to the activities of kidnappers, bandits, terrorists and herdsmen.
“I have made this suggestion before,” the Professor of Law told VINCENT KALU. “We should all be armed. Communities should be armed. Individuals should be armed so that anybody coming to attack you will know that he too has no chance of surviving.”
In the interview, he also called on the government to force Sheikh Ahmed Gumi to lead security agencies to the abode of the bandits in the forest. He expressed his opinions on other burning national issues. Excerpts:
Nigeria is being stretched to a breaking point. What gave rise to this?
The country is really stretched. I have never seen this country like this before, where at every corner, there is somebody committing one violent crime or the other. Although it is more in the North, the South is not safe. In the Southwest now, you can’t travel by road because people will jump out of the forest and stop and then abduct you. I have never seen a thing like this; really the Federal Government ought not just to declare a state of emergency. It should have a major strategy session on this. A community would be sleeping, and then some people would just come killing them. I have made this suggestion before: we should all be armed so that anybody coming to attack you will know that he too has no chance of surviving. Communities should be armed; individuals should be armed. That is balance of terror. For example, if as a farmer, a village in the Southwest is under the threat of Fulani herdsmen who one governor has said were entitled to wield AK-47 rifles which they carry about, then I need to carry mine so that when they come to my farm, we confront each other. He, with gun, and, I with gun, then he will know that it is dangerous to come to my farm. At that stage, when there is certainty that the man whom he is sent to attack can resist and use equal force, you will see that this thing will die down.
I always wonder when the youths cry out in various places, including my own Delta and other areas in the East and West that the Fulani herdsmen have overtaken our villages, our farms. Why can’t those youths gather together and seek arms and fight back? People need to fight back with arms and not with bare hands. The federal government should think of loosening the rules governing armsbearing and allow persons and communities that are under attack to have arms to defend themselves. Like in America, everybody has arms; if you are going to raid somebody’s house, you know that it is a big risk. Or, if it is a farmer and he is armed, you know it is a big risk going to kill him, to destroy his crops, to rape his wife or bring your cows to come and eat all that he has spent a whole year planting, probably with bank facility, destroy everything so that he has nothing to eat because you have cows? No, everybody is entitled to defence.
When Ondo governor, asked the herdsmen to leave Ondo forests, it generated much tension. Some Northerners said the governor was wrong as Nigeria’s constitution guarantees freedom of movement in which anybody can stay where he or she likes, but the governor said it doesn’t mean you coming to destroy my investments. What is the legal interpretation?
There are so many freedoms and many legal entitlements. Your freedom of association or freedom of movement is subject to other rules too. Like this question of forest reservations, the law allows you to have reservations. The whole idea is to preserve certain species from being destroyed. Government can make a law that nobody should live in such area so that they would not begin to cut down such trees or kill the animals. There is nothing like unchanneled freedom of movement. You can’t say that because you have freedom of movement, you just pack all your things into my sitting room and say: ‘I have come; I have freedom of movement under the Nigeria Constitution.’ What type of freedom is that? Your freedom ends where my right begins. So the freedom of movement ends where such laws that control reservations begin. So there is no such unchanneled freedom, otherwise there will be chaos.
Since banditry started, there is the impression that the military and security agencies don’t know where these bandits are. But we have seen Sheikh Gumi walk into their abode for negotiations. Some argue that this seems to be a contradiction. What is your view?
It is a really a contradiction. Gumi should be made to tell the secuirty organisations where these people are so that operatives can organise themselves and wipe them out wherever they are. He should be made to tell them. To create a situation in which the impression is given that bandits and kidnappers are legitimate operators with whom we should be negotiating, destroys the society. What this thing says is that there is no boundary to misconduct: it means that any misconduct you can carry out becomes legitimized. That is the impression. In such a case, life becomes brutish and nasty because there is no law; there is right, which is just the right to carry arms. Once you can use your arms and effectively do something dastardly, then you are recognised and you can carry on doing it. It is just not acceptable.
Sheikh Gumi canvassed amnesty for the bandits in the mould of the kind granted Niger Delta militants, as a way of ensuring peace. Do you support his proposition?
It is a totally different thing. The Niger Delta militants were not killing people. Yes, they did some kidnapping. But they didn’t go to school to kidnap schoolchildren. They targeted oil companies and those expatriates working for oil companies. It is not as if I support it, but it is not the same thing. Those people were engaged in political and economic protest. They were not just engaged in pure criminality to make gain out of evil.
People are asking: why is it difficult to declare the herdsmen and the bandits terrorist groups?
I don’t know. If they are not stopped now, they will bring this country down. Already, the economy is being affected. If where you are doesn’t have an airport, the elite will not go there; there will be no business there. Those in the elite group now travel by air; you can’t take the risk of going by road and enjoy the countryside. I have lawyers in this firm. Every time they have to go by road to anywhere, our hearts are in our mouths as to whether they would come back. That is not an economic way of surviving and living. So the roads will end up being empty because you have these terrorists. There is no other thing to call them. There had been instances where they hijacked buses, gathered all the people, trekked with them miles into the forest, raped the women, starved everybody almost to death and demanded money from relatives. And, if the money did not come or come early enough, they killed the people. For those who are a bit old and cannot walk fast enough into the bush, they kill them. That is totally unacceptable and I really want the Federal Government to deal with this thing in a very drastic manner so that they will know that what they are doing is intolerable.
Are you not afraid of the rising cases of ethnic warlords? In the East, you have Nnamdi Kanu; in the West, you have Sunday Igboho; in the Northeast, there is Shekau, leader of Boko Haram; in the Northwest, the bandits have a leader, likewise the herdsmen, they have a leader?
It is disturbing. I will make an excuse for Sunday Igboho; he seems to try to correct the situation. He is rising on behalf of his people to put down a situation in which they are being oppressed by marauders, robbers and bandits. He is not legitimately empowered to do so, but where those who are empowered to take up such responsibility are not doing anything. There is a vacuum which such people rise up to and try to bring justice which those empowered to do so are not doing. So, I don’t classify Igboho as one of those you are talking about.
Yes, we have a problem in this country. Northeast, we have Boko Haram; Northwest, we have bandits and in the South and Middle Belt, you have herdsmen. So there is no peace; the whole country is boiling. The security agencies – the army, the police, the DSS, the Civil Defence Corps, if they need more recruitment into the forces, let it be done. But this thing has to be stamped out. Otherwise, Nigeria will be destroyed. I see its imminent break-up, especially by the time you have people roaming all over the places. Look at what is happening now: those who supply foods and meat from the North are saying they are not coming to the South because something happened to some of their people. They are not looking at this thing properly. The South didn’t plan anything against anybody except actions individuals might have been taken against those who were terrorizing them. But for such a situation to arise shows that the level of insecurity in the country is so bad that we are unconsciously creating a breach between the North and the South. If you say you won’t allow food that you sell for money (it is not as if it is a gift to anybody) to other parts of the country. Then that part will say okay, whatever that we have that goes to your own side will not go. Then very soon we are going to have confrontations. It is a very dangerous situation.
Do you see politics of 2023 election as being behind these?
I don’t. What is the person going to gain if this continues? There will be no country for him to rule in 2023 because there will be chaos and anarchy everywhere. I don’t think it is in anybody’s interest. But you never can tell because Nigeria is a strange country. It is not obvious to me that somebody is doing this because of 2023.
Going back, towards the buildup to the 2015 election, that was when we had Boko Haram taking over some local government areas in Northeast and the eventual kidnap of Chibok schoolgirls. The same thing seems to be repeating itself?
I don’t see anyone benefitting from it except the bandits, kidnappers, herdsmen, etc. They are the ones gaining; nobody else gains. You can’t even say that the North gains or the South gains, no. The schoolgirls taken away were all Northern girls. And, they were taken away by Northern bandits. So there is no discrimination among some of the criminals and terrorists; they are just doing it against their own people, against anybody. The whole country has to be united against them. I still suggest that communities that are normally peaceful should be armed to discourage attacks by these terrorists.
Talking about corruption in the country, we now have a new EFCC boss. What this means is that the former boss, Magu, was found wanting. What should be the position of the law on his case?
We have not seen the report, so we can’t really conclude that he was found wanting. In this sort of situation, I would even want to hear what Magu and his lawyers have to say on the issue. From the distance that I followed the proceedings, those proceedings didn’t maintain fair hearing at all. It was one-sided prosecution. I’m sceptical of the fairness of the proceedings. If you have a tribunal of some sort, which has already regarded you as guilty before even trying you, it is not a good sign. That doesn’t give a very good indication of what the report will be. I need to see the report, read it, analyse it before I can come to a conclusion.
Who is behind Magu’s travails because he was applauded as giving EFCC some biting teeth?
He did very well. I’m not going to mention any individual. But what were Magu’s sins? I will say there are two: one, independent-mindedness, not wanting to be controlled or his discretion and authority taken over in the way he pursues war against corruption. Secondly, everybody has a candidate for that his position and they were just waiting for him to do four years before pushing their candidates forward. To that extent, there was general agreement among some powerful people that Magu should go because they have their candidates. That is the thing about Nigeria; it is a very strange country. You don’t have to be a bad a person; if you have been there for sometimes, there are people who are warming up to put somebody there, regardless of your excellence or non-excellence. Those are the two reasons – independent-mindedness and the fact that many powerful people had candidates for that position, not at all in the interest of the country.
Many hold the view that Buhari is not performing because of alleged nepotism; appointing people from his area, not based on merit. Could it not be one of the reasons the polity is overheated?
I don’t think that is the reason, unless you are saying that the people he appointed are incompetent. Then you have to be specific. I don’t buy that. I have heard people accusing him of nepotism. Frankly, I think there should be more diffusion in appointment in the security area; more people should come from other parts of the country. But, I don’t agree that it is the cause of our secuirty problems. It is like jumping from one logic to the other without proofs.
What is your greatest fear for Nigeria?
It is disintegration. We are in a situation in which we are warring among ourselves; in which different sides representing different ethnic groups, different religions are in a state of conflict or confrontation with each other. There is need for consensus. There is need to agree that this country should survive and there are certain basic minimum factors or considerations that must exist. One is safety. The constitution recognises that the government is obliged to provide the two main things that it is constituted for: secuirty and welfare. So, in that area, we are failing and we need to take urgent steps to address it. I was very happy when I read what the President said: that the kidnapping of those Zamfara schoolgirls would be the last. Which means, he has something up his sleeves; he has had enough. That is the way we should view all these violent attacks on innocent people and communities. We should make sure we take steps to ensure that nobody has the courage to say he wants to attack another person, community or rob another person or kidnap anybody.
People are debating that for Nigeria to move forward, it has to restructure. But some argue that they were yet to be told what restructuring means and the way it is going to be done. Others believe that Nigeria has been restructured already, from three regions to four. And, from four regions to: 12 states, 19, 21, and, now, 36. What is your idea of restructuring?
My understanding of restructuring is different from that. It is not how you are going to divide states or group states together. My understanding is granting the federating entities much more power and resources than they have now; much more independence than they have now. Yes, there was a time we were thinking of having a South-South states group together as one; Yoruba West as one and all that. That is, the six zones should become the basis of the new federalism. Those who have been carved out of those states could not agree because everybody was thinking that he was going to be a governor tomorrow. So instead of going into that, let’s just recognise what we have on ground today, transfer power to them from the federal. The federal is overloaded with power and resources. Let states keep what they generate and pay a tax to the centre rather than Federal Government taking over everything and then giving back to the state a little bit of what they have. We need a situation in which states can exercise power and increase the concurrent list, then reduce the exclusive list. The present exclusive list has about 68 items; it doesn’t make sense. In the First Republic, it had about 43 items. We should reduce it and give more power to the states to develop on their own. They don’t have to cry to Abuja every time; there should be no monthly meetings in which all the finance commissioners gather in Abuja to share money from the federal government. Let the states keep their resources and be the ones supporting the Federal Government. That is the way it used to be. That way, they will have enough power to develop, to compete and grow. They are not growing now. The only state that is growing, there may be more than one, is Lagos. It is the one that I can say really has the attributes of a state. It is because it has the capacity of organising its taxing system to make billions of naira. That is my idea of restructuring – transfer power, devolve power to the states; drastically reduce the power and the resources at the centre. Increase the power and resources at the states’ level, accordingly, so that they can survive independently of the centre and, rather be contributing to the centre. That way, Nigeria will develop fast.
What President will like to watch and see part of his power yanked off or members of the National Assembly allow their power or influence to be whittled down?
As part of this process, all the Assemblies – National Assembly, State Assemblies should be part-time; everybody should have something doing and, at intervals, they should gather to make laws maybe for one month and go back to their professions, works or business. That is what it was in the First Republic; everybody had a profession and that way you are not a drain on the purse of the nation. They would just get sitting allowances and go back.
As for the question you raised, it depends. When you think of the country rather than yourself, then it works. What has this huge power at the centre gotten us? It has not gotten us anything other than controversy: people fighting each other for positions and when they get there, they accumulate for themselves and so on. There is no sense of nationalism; it is just producing people in leadership positions. People are not committed to the country; they just want to accumulate power and resources. Look at the security situation now. If each state has a police, it would not have been so bad. I understand that the forests of all these states in the West and East have been taken over completely. Those who own those forests don’t know what is inside, but the people who have invaded them know the forests more than they do. It is not acceptable. But if we had state police, that would have been ameliorated. I’m a strong supporter of increasing the power and the resources of the state at the expense of the Federal Government. We need a Federal Government with few items that cut across the country so that it can concentrate and not get involved in everything.