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Government should institute enquiry into Abule-Ado Explosion, says Okunnu

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Alhaji Lateef Femi Okunnu

Alhaji Lateef Femi Okunnu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), a federal commissioner for Works and Housing during the regime of the former military head of state, Gen. Yakubu Gowon (rtd), spoke to SEYE OLUMIDE and SHAKIRAH ADUNOLA on the danger of insecurity posed by the activities of herdsmen, failure and implications of inappropriate town planning law, among others issues.

Do you think the recent explosion at Abule-Ado in Lagos State could be due to poor town planning in the country’s major cities and towns or population explosion, which the government has not really been able to address?
It is difficult to tell, without a proper enquiry, what really happened at Abule-Ado. It is not easy to decipher the causes of the explosion. Physical planning is not a federal matter; it is a state matter and that is why each state should have its own physical plan.       
 
Lagos State, before independence, has been grappling with the issue of physical planning. Lagos, as a federal territory then, had what we call Lagos Executive Development Board (LEDB), which later became Lagos State Development and Property Corporation (LSDPC) today, following the merger with Ikeja Area Planning Authority, and I think as well as Epe Planning Authority.

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But in respect of physical planning, it is not LSDPC’s duty; it is squarely the function of Lagos State Government.

If you look at the situation in Lagos today, compared to what it was in your time, what area do you think the state government should urgently address to improve on the town planning system?
We are talking about Lagos federal territory in 1954. At the creation of Lagos, the population was about 1.3 million, compared to Lagos today with a population of about 20 million people. That is a huge problem facing Lagos- population explosion- which the government will need to sit down and find a way to solve it.

You cannot stop people moving from one part of the country to another. So, it is a matter of containment. If the other states in the federation address this issue with some urgency, as Lagos is trying to do, Nigeria will be a better place to live in. But there are issues of education, from primary to secondary education, not to talk of tertiary education. Most of the states in Nigeria are not serious about the issue of education; they pay lip-service to education. None of the 17 northern states, for example, has really sat down, to my knowledge, and worked out a plan for free and compulsory primary education in their domains.

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Unfortunately, an opportunity was missed in 1974 when Gen. Gowon declared, as a matter of policy by his government, free primary education throughout the country. I was with him in Sokoto when he made this announcement. At that time, with the military in control, the government could have done that because all functions of residuary powers at that time were invested in the federal government. But the plan was cancelled when the Gowon administration was toppled in July 1975.

I was a member of a committee headed by the Minister for Education, Chief A.Y. Eke, which worked out the details, including school buildings and teachers training, which are perquisites for providing quality education. We trained teachers who would train the children, but all those were jettisoned.

Lagos will have to bear the brunt of the problems of population because it is a centre of attraction for many people. An explosion is no longer new in Lagos, but the worrisome aspect is the new insecurity dimension, with the two is the state not in for a serious problem? For instance, there are confusing stories of what could have caused the Abule-Ado disaster, with some blaming it on carelessness in the handling of LPG in the area around bearing petroleum pipelines, while some claimed it was a bomb blast?
I think the Lagos State Government should set up a commission of enquiry to ascertain the real causes of that accident, which has claimed several lives. It is for the state government to set up a judicial commission of enquiry into the cause, so as to put an end to all speculations and hopefully there will be an end to these explosions. Whether it was caused by those who want to steal oil or bomb or whatever, to me, it is necessary that the state government should set up a commission of enquiry.

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How would you also address the issue of the conversion of buffer zones (government restricted areas) to the residential area without government permission? For instance, along Mile 12 Ikorodu Road, most of the restricted areas are now being converted to residential or shopping malls, likewise other places?
The Lagos State Government, like the rest of the country, should respect climate change and nature. The state government should put a stop to land reclamation; it should not turn wetlands into Dubai. In this regard, Banana Island in Ikoyi is an aberration, the same for part of Parkview. When I was young we used to go there for picnics, but it is now like another Dubai. So, it is the determination of the people of Lagos to make their government stop land reclamation. For goodness sake, respect nature!

You said the government should set up a judicial commission of enquiry into the Abule-Ado explosion but are you not worried that even up till now, both the state government and authorities of Nigerian National Petroleum authorities of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) are offering discordant narratives on the cause of the explosion?
Loss of lives is a matter that should make the government stop and think. Loss of lives and property of that scale should make the government sit down and say, ‘let’s put a stop to this. Let’s find out the causes of this fire accident and put an end to all speculations.’

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The judicial commission of enquiry will solve it. Whether somebody dropped a bomb, which is part of the speculation, would be resolved. It is part of urban growth, which must be controlled, we don’t leave it to keep on expanding and for people to be reclaiming land and putting up 15 to 20 storey buildings. We are talking about human lives. My suggestion is that the government should set up a judicial commission of enquiry to find out the causes of the fire.

What is your take on the formation of Amotekun by Southwest governors?
The state governments have the right to set up their own organisations to help secure the lives of their people.

Under the 1960-63 constitution, the Police were not federal exclusively and I have a copy of the local government Police Force in the defunct Western region. The Northern region also had its own Police force. Whether the provision was removed by decree at one time before 1979, I do not know, but in the 1979 constitution, the Police became an exclusive item in the exclusive legislative list of the federal government. I think it is right that the security vote the governors also claim for themselves, which runs billions of naira, should be put to proper use. I am all out for Amotekun.

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Now that some state governors have signed the Amotekun Bill into law, what advice would you offer, regarding fears that the governors might later hijack the outfit for political gains?
If they do that, you should vote them out; the people have the power to vote them out. Votes counted in my time, but in this present time, I’m sorry. Vote-buying is another huge problem involving young people.

So, who is to be blamed for this problem?
The older generation never made any mistake of that nature. In my own time, there was little stealing. In the past 20 years, how many governors have been jailed for corruption? But in my time, I don’t think any governor was jailed for corruption.

Some have linked the emergence of Amotekun to herdsmen/farmers clashes. Do they have anything in common?
Amotekun, as I understand it, is what the Southwest sees as an answer to the danger caused by herdsmen who ravage people’s farmlands, not only in the traditional areas but also in different parts of the country. It is an answer to the danger of insecurity of life, property, especially landed properties, caused by the herdsmen.

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Growing up in Nigeria in the 1940s and 1950s, herdsmen, mostly from the northern part of Nigeria, used to come from what is now called Republic of Mali and Niger with their rams and cattle to sell through the northern border and people didn’t bother.

In those days, herdsmen were never armed. What they carried was sticks to direct cattle, but in recent times, herdsmen are armed because people started to resist the invasion of their farmland. They invade people’s farmlands and kill the owners of the farms.

A friend of mine has just told me that herdsmen invaded his farmlands at Ilah, a few kilometres away from Asaba, the Delta State capital, and drove away from the people he engaged to look after his farmlands. So, nobody goes to the farm any longer. That is the problem and it is not just the problem of Northwest and Southwest, it is now a national problem.

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Why should herdsmen still continue to do what they are doing? Every Nigerian, under the constitution, has the right to life and to own landed property, as entrenched in the constitution, without any molestation. It is completely wrong for herdsmen to come over to my land without my permission or authority with a gun or guns, threatening my life, invading my farmland and ravaging my farmland and destroying my farm products.

What went wrong that many people now see herdsmen as a threat to national security?
Whatever made them spread throughout the country, the danger is that they are carrying arms, whether the traditional routes or the new routes they have discovered, because the population is growing and more cattle are being reared and need more areas to feed and to be sold to people in other parts of the country.

So, it is not just the traditional routes now; it is all over the country. But the menace is in their carrying arms. Unfortunately, the majority of these herdsmen are not Nigerians; they come from outside the country and the government has the responsibility to control their movements.

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On that, the government has failed. They carry arms and the government has not disarmed them. They are not licensed to carry arms. These herdsmen are not in the armed forces, but they carry arms at will. Buhari’s government has failed in that duty to disarm and stop them from attacking people and invading their farmlands.
Would you say that is a justification for the Amotekun initiative?
 
Coming to the Amotekun initiative, it is the duty of the government to secure peoples’ lives and property. Admittedly, the federal government is in full charge of the armed forces and the Police. There has been agitation for the state Police. I had for many years opposed the idea of state Police, but I have been converted by the outcry or demand for state Police because the federal Police have failed to provide security of lives and property for the people of this country.

People need their lives and property to be secured. We used to have the federal Police, regional Police and even the local governments had their own Police in the past before it was eradicated after the military coup and we now have only the federal Police.

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Now that the federal government has failed to secure Nigerians, some state governments have come together to have a security outfit called Amotekun and have provided some vehicles to help secure the lives and property of their people. Herders have no right to come to my farmland, when I have spent money to plant all sorts of crops, not even these days when oil is not providing sufficient money for the economy of this country and government itself is advocating a return to agriculture. People are going back to agriculture, but encountering insecurity and the same government is not providing adequate security.

Now, state governors in Southwest decided to secure their states through Amotekun and the same federal government is saying it is illegal. Do you see the contradiction?
Now that the situation is posing great danger to the country, what do you think is the way forward?

The way forward is to ban herdsmen from invading people’s farmlands. For agriculture to take over from oil as the engine of the economy of this country and take its prime place, which it uses to take, for cocoa to grow and sell, for cotton, palm oil and rice to grow and be sold to the foreign market, herdsmen menace should be dealt with, as it does not guaranty progress for agriculture in this country.
  
There is insecurity in the country. Even in the President’s hometown, they are battling with bandits and armed robbers. Those who don’t want Nigeria to exist want to finish this country. The federal government should pay more attention to all these things.

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