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Solution to security challenges must take into account all peculiarities – Akinyemi

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Bolaji Akinyemi

Former Nigeria’s External Affairs Minister, Professor Akinwande Bolaji Akinyemi in this chat with GBENGA SALAU, spoke on the General Abdulsalami Abubakar’s security meeting, especially the boycott of the summit by some ethnic groups.

What were the lessons drawn from the security summit recently held and convened by former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abukabar?
It provided an opportunity to meet with a cross section of stakeholders and those who have been expressing views on the Nigerian situation. That opportunity was made available and people spoke freely. There was no antagonism that I detected and people did not hide their feelings. So, my conclusion was that nobody who attended that conference went away not knowing how people felt all over the country.

Some stakeholders ought to be there, but they backed out, from your experience participating in the summit, did they miss anything?
It would have been a good opportunity for them to express their views with the intensity with which they felt. It would have really been a good opportunity for them because the movers and shapers of views were there, but they took a decision based on a principle and sent a powerful message as regards why they did not show up. This should not be ignored by anybody who is planning another conference.

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Looking at the discussion at the summit, do you think another one should be convened, as a follow up?
That is a question that is neither here nor there, because nobody knows what the reaction to the conference resolutions would be from the public and government. Until government makes his views known and its reactions, you will not say we should have another conference or we should not.

In managing insecurity in the country, what might be the place of the 2014 national conference?
I wish we would just leave the 2014 National Conference alone, because the president has said he would not touch it and to keep bringing it up and pointing it out to him will not change his mind. So, why continue to bring it up. All I know is, since this problem will not go away and these problems are manifesting in a more dangerous way, the National Assembly, his advisers and other people that he listens to would probably bring up the recommendations of the national conference without making any reference to the national conference. You do not need to tell the President where you got the idea. We all do it, even as scholars.

How many times have you heard democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people? It has become an accepted clarion definition. So, when suggestions from the national conference are being presented to him, they do not need to say this came from the national conference. If you say it is from the national conference then that is a certainty for the President to reject it. You just tell him, community policing, and almost everybody that has been going to the Villa has been talking about it, without saying it came from the national conference.

And in any case, the advocacy for community policing, is it original to the national conference? We also got it from somewhere, where it has been practiced and we saw that it is applicable to our situation and we proposed it.

In managing this crisis, what suggestions do you have for government, federal, state and local?
I do not want to go into micro-managing the Nigeria crisis. Let me put out a global formula, which applies to every issue that government is confronted with. Do not implement or advocate a policy without taking into cognizance the peculiarities of the people that you are dealing with, don’t. We also know that this policy is going to impact on the lives of your people, the first thing you should do is to learn to say, if this is going to impact the lives of the people, I better study carefully, what the peculiarity in every locality is. It may differ, as peculiarity simply means that it is unique to that area. Since you know, I know and everybody knows from the time of amalgamation, we have all been brought together, because of our cultural traits; our responses differ from area to area. So, do not just apply panadol for every headache. Do not bring a policy that, while it may satisfy group A, it will so offend group B, running into trouble. So that is what I have to say to government, that in coming up with policies and implementing policies, you should have regard to the peculiarities of the people.

Some people have argued that true federalism could nip in the bud the sort of crisis we are now dealing with?
I agree, but nevertheless, it is still not too late, in the sense that even though we have a unitary constitution, that constitution emboldens the land use act, which gives the power to allocate lands to the governor, not to the President. At least, in this particular case, the Constitution made it very clear, that it is the Governor that has the right to allocate lands. You are right in the formulation of your questions, which is, if we practised true federalism; then any issue coming to the state or local government, the stakeholders will be automatically activated to discuss it.

There is also those who argued that there will be multiplicity of the crisis at hand if we go region as the issue will trickle down, as the different blocs of people within the regional group would play up sentiments being played up now?.
I am hearing this for the first time, because apart from the state, we have the local government and there might be a local government that, looking at its area, may say our emphasis should be on agriculture because they do not have mineral resources. Another local government might be four or five miles away, even though it may also want to focus agriculture but then discovered that it has mineral resources on that land and therefore that it should also focus on agriculture. It is possible that the local government that is four or five miles away, even though it may want to focus on agriculture may then discover that the mineral resources on its land are gold and diamond. It may as a result of the discovery say that should be where the focus should be, though without totally ignoring agriculture.

At the state level, depending on the constitution, there may be laws to avoid the kind of pollution that you have in Ogoni land. If you are going to do this in any level of government, there must be laws you must abide with. So, I do not see that as an issue. Yes, If I understand people raising this issue, due to location of natural resources, some states may be wealthy than others. Tough luck, that does not mean that you are no longer from Osun, now from Ondo because they have marble and oil. That is why I talk about the peculiarities, our culture, so localizes a human being, it does not mean you cannot work in another state. Surely, you can work in another state, but you are an indigene of a particular area. It is an issue but even right now, don’t we have that. Do we not have federal character, when it comes to appointments; they say you must reflect the federal character. A state cannot have more than one minister but if the President appoints three or four from a state, then there will be uproar. For me that is the throw of a federal dice.

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You talk about community policing, some people argued that governors are very reckless when given power, they usually mention state electoral bodies, that the way the governor manipulates them make them conduct election with impunity. That if governors are allowed to be fully in charge of state security, there is the likelihood that they will abuse it; do you not see another crisis in that?
I do and you are quite right to raise this fundamental issue about community policing and that is actually my position. You have articulated my own position in your question, but given the issue we are faced with now, the solution seems to be community policing. And I am just laughing that we are creating another problem by solving one problem. Maybe we keep that in mind for the drafters of the constitution amendment act, whether it means that if it becomes clear that community police is being abused, then the federal government will have the right to take it over during the process of that crisis. This is because to declare a state of emergency in a state is in our constitution, even though I am not happy about the definition of the state of emergency given by the Supreme Court, it begged the question.

So, we may look at that, if the community police is used to break heads of opponents and becomes a nuisance, the federal government can federalise it by appointing a commander for it and as soon as the crisis is over, return it to the state.

It is funny what we are doing. I was a member of the Uwais Electoral Reform Committee and the consensus and decision of that committee was that the state electoral commission should be absorbed into INEC because as you rightly put it, one could see the abuse of the state electoral committee. In the same state when INEC conducts election, the opposition wins some seat, but when state electoral body conducts local government election, it is 100 per cent victory for the party in power; the opposition does not even smell one seat. Everybody knows, so we advocated and now we are advocating community policing because we have seen another issue, which needs to be addressed and the Nigeria Police is incapable of addressing.

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