Not too long ago, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu chose to 'retaliate' (apologies to Idi Amin) a visit I had paid him at his home in Rockville, Maryland. I had visited him soon after he had been honoured at Babcock university with an honorary Doctorate of Law degree and I was excited about his visit because of noises in the media about the possibility that he might run for President. So as soon as I picked him up from SFO Airport, I soon directed the conversation away from small talk to politics. I asked Mallam Ribadu if he was indeed interested in the Presidency to which he responded that he felt a responsibility to Nigerians and to his Maker to join the effort to restore Nigeria to her rightful pride of place as a beacon of hope to the black race. Already I could see that my friend Nuhu had already learnt how to answer a question by not answering it, a trait he would need in politics any where in the world. I then asked him if I could record our conversation on the advanced voice recorder of my phone and of course Nuhu agreed.
Now that he has finally told Nigerians that he would contest, I feel that I owe Nigerians a duty to make available the transcripts of these phone conversations so that Nigerians could know the inner workings of this man that is so well known but is also somewhat of an enigma to many. I have decided to call these conversations 'What Nuhu Told Me' and release them in series according to the topic of the discussion. So this maiden piece which is the longest will be entitled 'What Nuhu Told Me: On Security and The Economy'. Please note that they are not Mallam Ribadu's manifesto, and in fact these conversations were not scripted and he had no prior knowledge of my intent until he landed in San Francisco other than the fact that I told him that I would be recording him on my phone.
The reason why I decided to put these discussions in writing is because even though they were impromptu and mostly recorded while we where driving down the US101 Freeway from Stanford University to the Scenic community of Hilltop in Northern California, Mallam Ribadu showed depth and an understanding of the issues at stake that has so far eluded the usual suspects currently angling for a turn at the Presidency with no other justification than that it is their turn because of where they come from. I will now go into our conversations.
Me: Okay, let's pretend you are sure that you will contest and Nigerians want to know how you would tackle the issue of insecurity, how would you respond say on AIT's Kakaaki?
MNR: Well Reno, you know I am not prepared, but I will give it a shot. I have just returned from a tour of several states and I took the time to meet with community leaders and citizens like you Reno. A lot of the people I talked with on these visits, like you, wanted to know what can be done to stem the rampaging spate of insecurity in some parts of the nation which manifests itself in kidnappings, robberies and such like. I believe they asked me this because they know of my background in security even before I was made EFCC chairman. Some of these were people who knew me from my days on the beat in Lagos where I had engaged in actual gun duels with armed robbers.
Now I want to address this issue as best I can given that I have not made any notes. Over the years, there has been an uneven distribution of wealth in Nigeria caused by a variety of reasons chief of which has been instances, because of the stage of the development of our democracy, where god fathers, cabals and cartels with narrow and group interests have had more influence over the choosing of leaders than the people of the locality being governed. Not only is this antithetical to democracy, but it has led to a situation where such leaders even where they have good intentions are in hock to these group interest such that they have to divert the resources meant to serve the people to serving those to whom they owe their ascendancy to power. This has led to a culture of privilege which is not sustainable and to keep it going for any length of time these groups have had to take recourse to using unemployed and impressionable youths to sustain their hold on power. Now after arming and using these youths during elections, one cannot expect them to remain idle in the periods between elections and because they are usually uneducated or undereducated the easiest option for them is a life of crime which has already been made easier for them by the arms procured for them by their sponsors.
This being the case, a reasonable government has to approach this issue holistically. These youths are themselves victims and while it may be necessary to use force to rout them, I have to recognise that there is an underlying reason why they are vulnerable to those anti democratic groups who engage their services to maintain their hold on power and that reason is poverty.
So whether you are referring to Boko Haram, militants, kidnappers, cultists or robbers the fact remains that government will be mistaken if it relies on just force to resolve these crises. We must apply intelligent solutions to them.
I am not in government, but if I were to advise the government Reno, I would say that first and foremost, we must make sure that electoral reforms which we all know we need are carried out as desired such that it will lead to the expected end of having the people of Nigeria whether at local government, state or federal level being able to freely choose leaders of their choice without encumbering the voters choices by elite back room deals, imposition by god fathers or electoral malpractices such as wrongful use of security agencies to aid a candidate etc. Once people feel that they have freely chosen leaders of their choice in every election they will be easy to govern and those leaders will have the moral authority and respect of the people to lead them without resistance and because their emergence was solely through the people they will apply the lean resources at their disposal to winning the ........(inaudible) hearts and minds of the people if for no other reason than the fact that they will want to be re-elected.
Now staying on the issue of electoral reforms, the truth remains that much as this administration and the PDP talk about electoral reforms, recent events at PDP headquarters indicates that this talk is just rhetoric. The actions of the PDP itself has shown that it will be more of the same if we allow this party to continue to control our destinies. Let me give you an example of what I mean.
If we go by the leadership maxim that you must begin with the end in mind, you can actually tell the end result of the PDP's preparation for the 2011 election from the beginning of its process. The PDP sold its Presidential and Gubernatorial Expression of Interest forms for such exorbitant sums. In a country where the Per Capita Income is nothing to write home about and where most of us struggle to live on maybe a hundred Naira a day our political parties cannot claim to be representing us when they sell an Expression of Interest form for a total of 11 million Naira. How many honest, decent and capable people can afford to pay this amount? It feeds the notion that we are actually democratising the idea of a cabal because if the vast majority of our people are shut out of contesting for monetary reasons how can we really claim to be a democracy? Take for instance our President, Goodluck Jonathan. In 2007 when he declared his assets, he was worth about 300 million Naira. Now imagine that he has to part with over 3% of his net worth just to buy a form to contest on the ticket of his party. Any surprise then that the PDP governors had to chip in and pay for his form? Now you will agree with me that the President is much better off than most Nigerians. The question is who will buy expression of interest forms for decent, honest and capable people who want to come in and sanitise our politics? Certainly not their state governors! So if decent, honest and capable people are shut out of the PDP how do they expect to win the 2011 elections? We must ask ourselves why is it that politicians get so desperate to win at all cost? The answer is clear to any student of economics. The more invested you are in a venture the more willing you are to do ANYTHING to make the venture succeed. The PDP's process is already fatally flawed even before the primary and general elections are conducted for the simple reason that persons who have invested such huge sums into purchasing forms are very likely to make elections a "do or die affair" and protect their investments by whatever means necessary. I respect the President and follow him on facebook and I am impressed by his stated commitment to avoid do or die elections, but how can you avoid them when people in the PDP have so commercialised the process? This is why we see politicians becoming so desperate to put together a machine that relies on these youths who I had earlier told you are victims because their poverty has made them vulnerable to monetary coercion. It is these same youths who are used as private armies during elections by godfathers that are behind the state of insecurity in Nigeria.
I have often said in the past that if we can get leadership right, we will get every other thing in Nigeria right in due course because as Chinua Achebe said, the trouble with Nigeria is that of leadership. This being the case, something has to give.
So if we want electoral reforms, we the people of Nigeria have to bring about those reforms. We cannot depend on the government and the National Assembly to do it for us. We must study what other countries did in order to free themselves from oligarchic cabals that make it a practise to subvert the electoral will of the people.
Studies from the electoral victories of opposition politicians such as Morgan Tsvangirai of Zimbabwe in the 2008 elections, of John Attah Mills in the 2008 Ghanaian elections and Abdoulaye Wade in the 2000 Senegalese elections have proven that were there is a high voter turn out it is virtually impossible to rig an election. I have been to these countries myself and talked to the people involved themselves and ironically they all point to the June 12, 1993 election in Nigeria as their inspiration for defeating the incumbent administration in their countries by getting out the voters! So my fellow country men, you can see that there is a precedent and that precedent which has brought about a democratic wind of change in Africa was actually perfected in Nigeria. Dear brothers and sisters, if we did it before we can do it again! To defeat the forces of retrogression in Nigeria we will need to get out the vote by registering en masse as soon as registration begins and voting in the 2011 elections. Everybody has a part to play. We must remember that bad or inept administrations are elected by people who don't vote. In other words, a people deserve the type of government they get!
And to members of the security and armed forces, Reno, people like you need to make them understand that people in power who would use them to subvert the electoral will of the people will also turn against them after they have used them. To prove this, let me illustrate with the case of the 27 soldiers who rioted when their superior officers misappropriated their salaries and allowances. While little was done to the offending superior officers, the 27 soldiers were sentenced to life imprisonment in April, 2009. You see that it even pays our military and paramilitary services to have a true democracy because no genuinely elected administration will tolerate the type of injustice meted out on these 27 soldiers. This is the same type of miscarriage of justice meted out on the few miscreants who are caught in electoral malpractices during election times and who are jailed while their sponsors are left untouched.
Now having established that the first thing to do in stemming the tide of insecurity in Nigeria is to get leadership right, I need to establish the fact that when we defeat these forces of retrogression (and believe me, we will defeat them!) we must expect that they will fight back. Reno, I know you recall my constant refrain when I was the chairman of EFCC to the effect that when you fight corruption corruption fights back. It is the same thing with godfathers, oligarchies and cabals. When you fight them, they fight back! So, when the people take their destinies in their hands and come out en masse to vote for leaders of their choice and protect that vote with their sheer number which will intimidate the forces of the oligarchs, the ensuing government that will result will have to apply the law and unleash law enforcement/Security agents without taking into effect the personalities involved. What this means is that while government is going after the kidnappers, the robbers and .......(inaudible) those who wreak havoc on society, we also have to be seen to be going after those behind them. If we concentrate on the pawns and leave the master minds alone because they are persons of influence in the society, we will only be fighting a losing battle because these masterminds will find more willing pawns. Let me put this in perspective for you. Between 1999 and 2010, there have been religious and ethnic violence in Jos, Kaduna, Bauchi, Maiduguri and other towns. There has also been militancy and restiveness in the Niger Delta along with kidnappings in the Niger Delta and various other places. Now how many people have been arrested, tried, convicted and imprisoned as a result of these disturbances? Few, very few. Now how many of their sponsors have been brought to book? Even fewer. And what has been the result? We have seen insecurity grow because what you tolerate will increase in occurrence. And I can prove this. Between 2003 and 2007, the EFCC team under my leadership went after every form of economic crime you can imagine, from foreigners and Nigerian citizens who engage in economic sabotage by evading taxes and import duties to high government officials who steal government funds to 419 king pins and their minions, and what was the result? We saw that economic crimes reduced in Nigeria during that period. It is a natural principle that you see even in a farm. When you neglect a farm weeds begin to grow on it. But the moment you start to tend to the farm the weeds will begin to reduce until they are gone. I was a police prosecutor for years Reno, and I have seen first hand that it is possible to use the law as it is to descend on criminal elements and their sponsors. What has just been lacking is the will Reno, the will!
And thirdly, government must ensure social justice by ensuring that the only people who have access to wealth are people who create wealth. Every Naira in circulation must be tied to work, production or services rendered. No more must people make money by peddling influence, selling contracts or getting oil blocks which they have no capacity to develop. Those who make money without working or creating value by offering a service or manufacturing and selling goods are a threat to society. Reno, they are the types of people who will want the status quo to remain and we know that the status quo is not sustainable. This is the reason why when I was chairman of the EFCC my team and I tried our best to plug observed loop holes in the financial markets, the banking industry and the manufacturing sector and not just the government. So when people see that the ONLY (emphasis mine. I used it because he increased his voice tone when he said only) way to have assess to wealth in Nigeria is by working, offering a service or manufacturing goods for sale rather than relying on patronage from those who control political office because those in power now owe their ascendancy solely to the people everybody will be forced to go to work in order to exist and this will have attendant and far reaching positive consequences for our economy and security of life and property.
In summary on this your question Reno, I will not advise a knee jerk approach to solving the issues of insecurity because that will only be postponing the evil day. I will advise that we work on our security forces by providing them with modern technologies that aid crime fighting so they can deliver results and not activity. But as we take these steps, we should also stimulate the economy in the ways I just suggested.
In addition Reno, we must make sure that public universities enjoy an uninterrupted academic session by ensuring proper funding of the education sector and finding creative ways to resolve ASUU/Government disputes so that our youth have positive ventures to occupy their minds which will make them less vulnerable to the lure of crime because as we know the devil finds work for idle hands.
It is my expectation that just as with other countries, the combination of these deliberate and far reaching policies will have the desired result of fighting the symptoms and most importantly the causes of insecurity in Nigeria.
Last Line: Happy 50th Birthday, Mallam Nuhu.