The Chairman of the Pan Niger Delta Forum, Air Commodore Idongesit Nkanga (retd.), speaks to THEOPHILUS ONOJEGHEN on the formation of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum and why the group wants the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, sacked
What was the reason behind the formation of the Southern and Middle Belt Leaders’ Forum?
I will say to every Nigerian that is alive today, following the trend of things not flowing quite right, it just did not start but things are getting to its peak now. We found out that the answers to what we are going through now are that our dear country needs to restructure. When this issue came up, even during the 2014 National Conference, a lot of the issues then pointed to the fact that we need to restructure the country so that we can have true federalism. All these years, we have been saying we need true federalism but we never got it. The South-South, South-West and South-East were all speaking in unison and the Middle Belt felt even worse. The main thrust of these meetings is that there is a need to restructure this country so that we can have true federalism and move the country forward. It is for the progress of the country.
Why did the group pass a vote of no confidence in the Chairman of INEC, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu, ahead of the 2019 polls?
The more truths we tell, the better it is for our country. As a matter of fact, the people that spoke are elders of this country and they want to leave this country a better place than they met it. And we know that, in this country, a lot of people are more loyal to their ethnic groups and religions than they are to the country.
We found out that since 1960, the only time we have had a president or head of country having the umpire of the elections from his own ethnic group is this (government). Remember when former President (Goodluck) Jonathan was there, he said, when (Prof. Attahiru) Jega came, he had never met him and did not know him. Out of all the other heads of government that were listed during that press conference, if you look back, you will find out that there was none (that did such). So, we don’t want a case where after the 2019 elections, assuming Mr. President wins, people start murmuring that it was because he (Yakubu) was from his ethnic group and all that.
If he (Buhari) wants to be honest, in fact, it is in his own interest that it was said that ‘you can get somebody from some other place to come and handle it’. And we do know that when he came in, Mr. President appointed Mrs. Amina Zakari, who we understand is related to him, as acting chairman; and because there were lots of noise-making, she was dropped and Yakubu was brought in. Yakubu is a fine person. I have met him before but, under the circumstances, (we need) to give credibility to what will be done. We don’t want noise; we don’t want people questioning for no just cause after the election. Anybody who believes that our position is not correct is not just being honest.
Was that why you claimed that the non-release of INEC probe into the underage voting in Kano was part of the plot to rig the 2019 polls?
If the cock crows tonight and the child dies in the morning, somehow, you can always connect. With this underage voting in Kano, I first saw it on the CNN during the 2015 elections. We saw it again during the local government election in Kano and INEC is responsible for registering all voters in this country. We remember that the INEC chairman set up a committee to go and find out what happened in Kano. I’m not sure we have seen the report, that report has not been released and we don’t know why. Now, the governor of Kano State assuring the APC of five million votes from Kano. I think we have reasons to be worried. The elders are speaking out, advising the country. If you are in a position of authority, it goes with responsibility. You can dodge responsibilities, but you cannot dodge the consequences of that dodging of responsibilities.
Why did you call for the probe of the voter register by a judicial commission with representatives of international and local elections observers to check cases of underage voters and foreign mercenaries before the 2019 elections?
It is a matter of credibility. The more credible we can make our elections, the less problem we would have after the election, the less acrimony. If you go to election and somebody beats you clean and square, you are likely to accept it than when you know that perhaps he was aided by some means other than the approved way of doing things. So, we want to see that this election is as credible as possible so that whoever emerges would have earned the respect of Nigerians and the international community. You may have won the election but if there are questions about the process through which you emerged, the people you are governing are unlikely to cooperate with you. They will continue to believe that you did not do it by clean means.
Why are the elders saying that the construction of a rail line from Kano, through Dambatta, Kazaure, Daura, Mashi, Katsina, Jibia to terminate in Maradi, Niger Republic, was part of the deal?
The money being used to construct rail lines is coming from the Niger Delta area. Today, a child, born in Akwa Ibom and goes to school here, will not know what a train looks like unless he goes outside the state. Yet, almost 96 per cent of the money that is coming to this country is from the Niger Delta. If we have a rail line from here to Warri, wouldn’t that help us to move the petroleum products better? That’s not to say he (Buhari) cannot do it somewhere else but if it is a priority, it has to be of commercial value. When the colonialists did their rail line, they went from the West, Lagos, up North to Kaduna and then Kano. They did another one coming to Enugu. What happens to the one that should cross from Lagos, maybe back to Cross River State that would have passed major areas of the Niger Delta where the oil is coming from? We asked for coastal road; we asked for the East-West Road; we asked for rail line, but we got nothing! These are the issues. I am not saying they should not construct rail lines anywhere else but let it be of competitive commercial value. And I think by all indications, the areas that we need to move these petroleum products, where you are producing them, deserve to have a rail line.
Why did the forum also ask Mr. President to reconstitute the security apparatus of this country?
Well, if you are not getting the right result, any right-thinking person will know that if you keep doing the same thing, you are not likely to get the result that you deserve or desire. We know that the hierarchy of the military, for example, today, has reached a point where there should be tenure change. There are laws guiding these things, but that has not been done. We don’t know for what reason. We believe that, perhaps, these ideas should come in.
Security today, I believe everybody is in agreement, is a major concern of Nigerians. They can’t sleep with their two eyes closed anymore. During the civil war, there were days that there were no killings, no war. But today, on a daily basis, blood is being carried with bags. If you put on the television, the first item on the news is the number of persons killed in so-and-so place. Nigeria is almost under siege. You hear of Python Dance, Crocodile Tears, Cat Race and what have you. This is not the way it should be. I believe that even with what is happening in the North-East, perhaps we are fighting the wrong war. I have said that many times.
If we have insurgency, it is a low-intensive conflict. The first thing that you want is to win the heart and minds of the people. There is no amount of bombs that you will drop on the North-East that will end insurgency. You must go to a dialogue table and get to the root of what is causing the whole problem and discuss. America did it; they dropped bombs with B52s. Until they got to the table, it was not over. They could win the war but they could not win the peace. In Northern Ireland, if they did not discuss with the United Kingdom, perhaps they would still be having those problems today.
The way I look at it, if it is wrong, perhaps it is time, especially if people have served their time, to let them go, bring new ideas and strategise properly. I don’t know but every day, they tell us that they have been technically defeated, yet you see people being killed. Where are they coming from? Are they ghosts? They are not! It means we are not applying the right strategy to what is going on.
Are the leaders of the four regions still insisting on restructuring before the 2019 elections?
Restructuring is a major issue. Anybody that wants to run for the presidency of this country must demonstrate to us that he is going to implement restructuring. As a matter of fact, for the government that is in place now, there are certain items that could be done towards restructuring even before then. I don’t think they are going to accept, like what happened when the ruling party said they are going to restructure, only to come in and said, let a committee meet and define restructuring. We don’t know which one they promised before they came in. The thing is very serious now that anybody that hopes to rule this country must tell us how he is going to restructure because that is what is going to get us out of the woods and people believe it. These four regions (North-Central, South-West, South-South, and South-East), believe that it is time to restructure. I have found out that there is no state in this federation that does not have something that it can live on. There are some states with many mineral resources and they are just sitting on it simply because there is no competition. There are states that their IGR is just about N1bn monthly, but at the end of the year, they would have collected about N70bn from the federation account. Where is that extra coming from if not from oil of the Niger Delta?