IGBO CAN'T BLACKMAIL NORTH-WAKU
Senator Joseph Waku is the Vice National Chairman of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF). In this interview, he speaks on a wide range of issues agitating the minds of many Nigerians-national security, corruption, bad governance among others. In what appears to be a new perspective to the security challenge facing the nation, he posited that the threat of Boko Haram might be a grand design by a particular section of the country to give the north a bad name so that they can execute their secession plan.
He said, 'We northern leaders are even contemplating that Boko Haram is his (Jonathan's) own making to blackmail the north so that they can secede. It has reached a dimension for one to believe that there are some people somewhere that are fueling this crisis to give a dog a bad name so that they would have a reason to secede. We are beginning to suspect that there is a plan against the north.' Excerpts…
Have you finally retired from politics?
If you are in politics for economic benefits and you can't achieve that expectation, then you may retire. But when you go into politics to render services to the downtrodden, the less privileged in our society, speak for the voiceless people, you will never retire. You can take a back bench, but you will always comment on national issues. For me, politics is not all about staying in office. If you insist on office holding, you become not just a politician but a job seeker. So, there are two dimensions in this case.
One is a job seeker politician that must always be in the office, the other is a seasoned politician that must speak for the less privileged people in the society. In and out of office, one can still render services to the nation. And that is what some of us have been doing. I am not going to fight for any elective office, but if I am called upon and the calling is genuine, then I may consider it.
But I am not going to quit politics. Politics is in me. As I wake up in the morning, the first thing I say is 'oh God, thank you for waking me up, give me the opportunity to speak for the less privileged.' I don't ask God what I will eat or enjoy for myself, but the opportunity to speak for the less privileged. So, it is not all about office because office is a privilege. You may not be a politician; yet, you may find yourself in the House of Representatives or the senate. You can also be a politician without running for any elective post. So, these are two different scenarios in this game.
Revelations coming out of the House of Representatives Committee probing the controversial petroleum subsidy funds have shown how some cabals are holding down the country. What is your opinion on this?
I hate to hear the word cabal.
You mean there is nothing like cabal?
I said I hate the word cabal.
Cabal is a group of people given the responsibility of looking after the majority. Nigeria is about 150 million in population. Those in government are less than three million people. That is the cabal itself. These are the privileged few trusted with the responsibility of looking after this great nation. But they have found within themselves a few criminals who are holding down the nation. Unfortunately, the leadership knows them and shields them from being prosecuted. For me, such people are not cabal; they are criminals within a group of Nigerians who are given the responsibility of looking after the affairs of this country.
We should not be calling such people cabal; they are criminals within the group. And the government knows those criminals that are cornering our wealth. So, they should be prosecuted and jailed to serve as deterrent to others in the future. For sometimes now, I have not been speaking on the state of the nation. And it is not out of fear or out of cowardice; it is because I just don't want to make comment. I have turned down a number of interviews from many media organizations because I am sick and tired of what is going on in the country. So, I decided to keep my eyes and ears widely open to hear and see where those leading the country are taking us. Nigerians were jubilating voting for Jonathan as president of this country. He needs to sit up and deliver on his electoral promises.
Government is not about ethnicity, it has a wider perspective than that. He had better stand up so that this country will not collapse under his government even though he has confessed to us that the system has collapsed under his leadership. He made the statement and I took him up on that. The question is: What is he doing in the office if the nation has collapsed?
As hardened as former President Obasanjo was, he brought into consideration authoritarian spread of appointments. The National Security Adviser of Mr. President was a northerner. The Director General of SSS was a Yoruba man but a Muslim. And so it was for all other service chiefs. These are sensitive positions. Now, Jonathan went and picked National Security Adviser from his village.
He picked Director-General of SSS from his village. He picked Chief of Army Staff from his village. So, Nigerians are folding their arms to watch these people if they can help to solve the nation's security issues. He also brought in an Inspector General of Police whom he knew ab initio of his incompetence when he served as the Commissioner of Police in Bayelsa State during his tenure as the governor of the State. Is this is a pay-back time? You don't personalize governance. If you personalize governance, the nation suffers. And that is the dilemma we are going through today. I am disgusted with the so-called South-South Youth Forum, threatening Nigerians.
And I have never heard a responsible person from that region coming up to say these young people are saying this on their own. So, one begins to wonder whether this is a grand plan to cause confusion so that Nigeria can disintegrate. To hell with disintegration of Nigeria. Let everybody answer his father's name. Let them go and drink their oil, we will eat our yam. Yoruba will eat their cocoa in their region. Life will still continue. But does that solve the problem? The answer is no. But the president is sitting down there and listening to people making advertisement of secession and they are not arrested. Yet, some fools somewhere are saying why don't you arrest Babangida? Why don't you arrest Atiku? Why don't you arrest Gusau? Why don't you arrest Ciroma?
What have they done that warrants their arrest? And you think by so doing, the nation's problem will be solved. How can some people say we will secede and the national security operatives didn't say anything or fault the threat? He also gave Boko Haram chance to do the kind of nonsense they are doing. Everything boils down to leadership. I was deeply involved in the campaign for the Late MKO Abiola. I was his campaign coordinator for the then middle-belt.
I was initially his coordinator for Benue State but when he emerged in Jos as the Presidential candidate, I was upgraded to the coordinator for the entire middle belt. When his election was annulled, we all teamed up with him. But when Yoruba decided to make it Yoruba affairs, I then pulled out. I pulled out because I was working for a Nigerian that I knew his competence. I knew his support cut across borders of religion and tribes. Besides, Nigerians don't bother about religion when it comes to leadership. Look at the most complicated election Nigeria went through at that time: Muslim/Muslim ticket.
Yet, Nigerians came out with dignity to cast their votes for these gentlemen. Again, there was Buhari/Idiagbon regime. Nigeria is not all about religion or tribe. But when one tribe is trying to claim that it is wiser than others, that is where we have problem that is going on now.
Boko Haram has become a big threat to the unity of this country to the extent that the Igbo have given directive to their people in the north to move back home owing to the feeling that they are being targeted. How do you see this development?
Ndigbo are not being targeted. If you read our last communiquÃ© by the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), we advised Nigerians to stay where they are. We even attempted to defend the elders of the South-South despite the reckless pronouncements of their youth. But up till now, none of their elders has come out to tell the nation that they are not involved in what their youths are doing.
The ACF has come out to say that we are not in support of that. So, northerners have not given any instruction to Igbo to leave. We are under a constitutional provision which allows freedom of movement and association. But if those staying in the north are tired of staying in the north, they are free under the constitution to move. But the north cannot accept a blackmail that Igbo are being targeted. Let them come out with what is motivating them to move back home. Of course, they are free to move anywhere in this county.
They probably have recorded more casualties than any other tribe.
(Cuts in). They recorded more casualties because in terms of religion, particularly in the north, the Igbo dominate Christian religion. So, if a church is burnt, naturally, Igbo who are in the church would be affected. In Kano which is predominantly a Muslim state, is Boko Haram group not killing people there? The problem of Boko Haram has gone beyond tribal issue.
Some people still believe that northern elders have not spoken loud enough on this Boko Haram issue. Have they?
How would they have spoken? Have they been consulted to speak? I know some southerners tried to accuse the northern leaders, Adamu Ciroma and co that said if Goodluck Jonathan becomes president, the government would be miserable. He said that because he knew as of fact that the people would not be happy and they are not. He has spoken sufficiently because you know that it was not the turn of the South to produce the president. Let me not deceive you, people are angry. Our governors in the north are angry. But they don't know what to say and the people of the north are against them because they sold out. They betrayed the confidence reposed in them; they sold out the north.
Isn't it an irony that the same people they would have ruled over are the same people being slaughtered?
And that is why I said when people are angry is like when God is taking judgment. If you leave everything to God to take decision, the aspect of His decision will affect everybody.
Isn't this killing enough for somebody to call the group to order?
That is if a government is there. This matter is no longer a village Boko Haram that we were talking about in Maiduguri, they have gone scientific. It is the duty of security apparatus to map out proper strategy for dealing with the problem. It has gone beyond a village kind of revolt. It is not a thing that you will say because Senator Waku is the Vice National Chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum, he should go and talk to his people.
The President and Commander in-Chief of Armed Forces said that there are Boko Haram members in the executive council, the police, SSS, and the military. And we northerners are saying bring these people out so that we can be vindicated that we don't know them. If their offences require facing a firing squad, bring them out. He is the Commander in Chief; he is the nation's Chief Security Officer, why is he keeping them? We northern leaders are even contemplating that Boko Haram is his own making to blackmail the north so that they can secede. It has reached a dimension for one to believe that there are some people somewhere that are fueling this crisis to give a dog a bad name so that they would have a reason to secede. We are beginning to suspect that there is a plan against the north.
But there is a report in the media that some northern governors are giving financial aids to Boko Haram to prevent them from striking in their state. What is your take on this?
I don't know about that. That report boils down to leadership issue in this country. It means nothing is hidden about Boko Haram again. If it is true that those people approached some governors for finance so that they will not attack their states, then the Federal Government should hold those governors responsible. They should tell Nigerian who came to make the request whether they turned it down or accepted it. We are not kids. I have been in this game for 45 years. By the time I mark my birth coming up in the next few weeks, I will be 66. So, you can imagine I have started this game in my tender age.
Is this the reason why some people are saying that he is not in charge?
I believe he is in charge as the President. He can be weak but it doesn't mean that he is not in charge.
What then is the fate of the downtrodden at the receiving end of all these crises?
That is the crisis the leadership ought to have avoided ab-initio. As it is often said, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. This is what we are witnessing today.
Everything you have said boils down to bad governance. Do you see the scenario like the Arab Spring happening in Nigeria?
When it first started in Tunisia and Dimeji Bankole, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, said it cannot happen in Nigeria, I looked at him and laughed. He does not understand what revolution is all about. Revolution is no respecter of a brother or a sister. It is a spontaneous reaction. So, we must be very careful to avoid such things in this country. A president cannot be disgraced any time he takes a decision that is not in the best interest of the people. If a president takes an unpopular decision and comes out to say I am sorry, I reverse it, it is a plus to him. It is not a sign of weakness but rather an acknowledgment of the yearning of the people. And he would be respected in history as a powerful president. But some criminals around President Jonathan wouldn't tell him the truth.
Do you see this government having the political will to arrest and deal with those implicated in the ongoing probe of subsidy fund by the House of Representatives?
If they don't have the political will, Nigerians have. No one can take Nigerians for a ride again. Nigerians will take them to public court, which is worse than ballot papers. If government doesn't take action, Nigerians will take action. There are several actions that Nigerians will take. I don't know what decision they will take, but I know they will take action. This is where the integrity of the National Assembly is at stake. We are waiting to see the outcome. Everyday my brother, Farouk Lawan, sits on the proceeding of the probe, Nigerians are watching and they are waiting for the outcome of that committee.
Many people see the activities of legislators as self-serving; especially considering the ways and manners they allocate fat allowances to themselves. Do you feel bothered about that as a former member of the National Assembly?
What pains me about Nigeria is that our people don't appreciate your role until you are dead. This is my personal Assistant in the National Assembly; ask him how much I earned as a senator. I earned N83, 000. And no press in Nigeria came out with that. As a matter of fact, for nine months when we started, we were earning N13, 000, while the House of Representatives members were earning N11, 000 per month.
Nigerians didn't say anything about it. It was later that Revenue Mobilization and Fiscal Allocation Commission raised it to N83, 000. Again, we did not fix allowances on our own and we did not take salary allowances. What we took was furniture allowance. And furniture allowance is accountable. You pay back; otherwise, you wouldn't get clearance from the clerk of the National Assembly. We paid back. Nigerians held us in high esteem because they saw it that it was a better National Assembly. We were able to tell Mr. President, don't do this. We were able to put the president on his toes. Nigerians didn't consider that worthy enough of publication in the newspapers.
Perhaps, the facts and figures were not made public.
(Cuts in). But why are the current ones being made public?
Obasanjo is a crude blackmailer. All this he didn't tell the press. And when he did, he misinterpreted furniture allowances. The furniture allowance we took was a loan which we paid back. In fact, when I was leaving the National Assembly, they came from the store to check the items. Those who said they would not pay the balance of the loan, they packed their items. And none of these came to public knowledge. Every senator was given a vehicle until later on when they approved a back-up car.
And what was the car (Peugeot) to me in the senate and many Nigerians? I can't remember when last I had Peugeot in my fleet. But Nigerians took it up. And I don't blame them. It was the first kind of it. We knew every eye was on us, and that was why we were very careful. Did you hear anything like constituency contract in our time? But we brought the idea of constituency project to the National Assembly. What we did was to advise the executive to approve constituency projects and award the contract to an approved contractor. Mr. President thought that we were going to be the one who would earn the credit. But we said no, give the contract to whosoever you want in our various constituencies so that the credit can come to you that you did something for them.
What would you suggest as a way to rescue Nigeria from the precipice?
Government should not be personalized. Government should be inclusive and not exclusive. Governance is not exclusion. We took a letter to the dictator, late Abacha and told him the danger of his self-succession plan. We said government is about inclusion and that policies of government should be made known to the people. My wife and I had run away from our home. Policy of government should be people-oriented programme. Government is not about slogan as Jonathan keeps mouthing his transformation agenda.
What is the meaning of transformation? What are you transforming when they are killing Nigerians on a daily basis? Governance is more than sitting in that office. Government is to extend hands of fellowship to various interest groups so that you can always get feedback as to when they are happy. Jonathan should make a statement about the South-South's provocative pronouncements because we are suspecting that someone is behind them. And it is not the best. How many votes did the South-South give him to make him president? The entire vote of South-South is not up to Kano. He should see himself as a national leader and act the same.