Chief Ayo Opadokun, elder statesman and Secretary-General of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), in this interview speaks on the current developments in the polity. The Convener, Coalition of Democrats for Electoral Reforms (CODER) also assesses President Muhammadu Buhari’s performance in the last four years as well as proffer solutions on some challenges the nation is going through. TEMIDAYO AKINSUYI brings the excerpts:
President Muhammadu Buhari said his administration will continue to focus on the three cardinal agenda of his first term to improve the economy, secure the country and fight corruption. As an elder statesman and concerned Nigerians, what is your take on the current state of security of the nation?
I am worried about the state of insecurity in the country and from the statement of Mr. President himself and his associates; they are also worried about it. That is a quick response to your question. But then, those who will want to get cheap publicity will have to understand the state of insecurity we have in the land from the perspective of the global setting we are in now.
Insecurity has been building up over the years before Buhari came into office. The Western powers were culpable in the state of insecurity that has spread all over the world, particularly the United States of America. The falsehood with which they embarked upon the invasion of Iraq on the basis of the fact that Saddam Hussein was having weapons of mass destruction and then toppled that government, which was a stabilising government has led to the creation of ISIS, Al-Qaeda and several versions of those groups and they spread globally.
When the former governor of Zamfara, Ahmad Yerima established Sharia law in Nigeria, we cautioned the then President Olusegun Obasanjo that action was an unacceptable violation of the 1999 constitution, however objectionable we were to that constitution. Society cannot be governed by two separate laws. Because Obasanjo allowed it, 12 additional states also joined in order for them to be able to win the election. Then Obasanjo said it was just political sharia and it will soon fade out. Here are we today, it has not faded out. The hypocrisy and dishonesty in the whole scheme are clear. You prohibit the sale of alcohol yet you want to take the largest chunk of the money realised from the sale of alcohol, cigarettes and the likes which is VAT. The start of Boko Haram began when Ali Modu Sheriff was there. He financed the operation for the kickoff for his political activities. But when he thought that the young men were no longer useful to him, he started attempting to distance himself from them and they felt aggrieved and started unleashing terror because they believed and they said clearly that he was collecting huge sums of money from the centre on their behalf yet those monies were being expended by him and his cohorts at their expense. So, they said they will not allow Ali Modu Sheriff and his people have rest any longer. Two times, their leader, Mohammed Yusuf and some of his subordinates were arrested. What did Obasanjo do? They blackmailed him and because he is essentially a coward; they falsified events and they said those who arrested him in the DSS and brought them to detention in Abuja were Christians and so they should be released.
That was why when the group had an expanded base and became a thorn in the flesh of the system, they were now accusing the SSS, the SSS had to respond about several efforts they had made to nip the upsurge of that group in the bud and what the government has done to release them. So, they are not guilty of anything.
So, if what eventually turned out to be Boko Haram and the Sharia thing had been curbed from that time, we will get to where we are today. So, it amazes me that Obasanjo is now claiming to be holier than the Pope and alleging that President Buhari has failed to provide security. He is just being hypocritical and being dishonest in its entirety. What did he do while he was President? He had the opportunity of nipping this insurgency in the bud but he never did and he created problems for succeeding governments.
Has President Buhari’s efforts in curbing the activities of the sect yielded any desired efforts?
Now by the time Buhari came in, the expansion of the base of Boko Haram has been so extensive that they caught the attention of ISIS and Al-Qaeda and they linked up. So, the Maghreb region of Africa and the Sahel region were able to exchange ideas and finance, funding became available for these fundamentalists, to the extent that they could do so much and they capture over 14 local governments of a Nigerian state before Buhari came into office. The fact is; the thing became so expansive to the extent that the government was forced to allocate money for the purchase of weapons so that these fundamentalists could be fought headlong. However, the money that was budgeted for the purchase of arms was diverted and distributed among politicians to run their elections. The result is what we are finding from the Office of the National Security Adviser. The then NSA (Sambo Dasuki) became the treasurer, Chancellor for Exchequer of money that was ought to be used to buy critical weapons to fight the insurgents who have superior arsenals we never had. When Buhari came, the first thing he did was to go to Chad to hold meetings with neighbouring countries. From there, he moved to other places so that he could understand the realities of what is happening. As at that time, the insurgents had been given not only money but also logistics and trainings because this is not conventional warfare. The army is trained for conventional warfare but these insurgents are not conventional combatants so the way they operate is so diversified. For me, I believe the Buhari administration has done its little best to have stopped the incessant attacks of soft targets which Boko Haram has been doing over time even though their best may not be good enough.
How has the Nigerian Armed forces fared under him as Commander-in-Chief?
Everywhere, particularly in Third World countries, when you have a situation of insurgencies or something like civil war, the military top shots, and their juniors, many times don’t like the war to be over because it affords them the opportunity of making money and that is being manifested now. You can’t put significant blame on the Commander-in-Chief in that situation because that is what he met on the ground having been out of the military for over 30 years. It takes time for him to confront the security situation and do the two other things he has promised which are fighting corruption and revamping the economy. So, in the final analysis, my position is that President Buhari needs to do more. He needs to be more active. But I am happy to see that he has changed the Minister of Interior and Defence.
What about the replacement of the Service Chiefs which a lot Nigerians believe is long overdue?
Those of us who are outside government is most unlikely to appreciate what those in government are doing. I am not a spokesperson for government but truth of the matter is, in the Third World, the Commander-in-Chief ’s fear in changing Service Chiefs is because of the consciousness of their own preservation that anything can happen; and it has happened. Milton Obote, the man who promoted Idi Amin as General in Uganda was toppled by the same Idi Amin.
We have a situation where a significant number of Nigeria’s retired Generals are in terrific gang-up against Buhari and some of them still have their pockets of loyalties within the Army. So, for anyone of us who is outside of government now to be insisting that Buhari must change the people he knows is a dangerous game one is asking him to play; to commit suicide.
I was reading on the social media few days ago that he wanted to change the Service but he was cautioned that he can’t vouchsafe the loyalty of the next people who will be coming in as Service Chiefs. For a more matured mind, we can understand the implication of power globally but one will not be flippant as to insist and abusing the President for not changing Service Chiefs. He is the one on the seat and he has all the intelligence reports. One thing Nigerians should understand is that Buhari is a marathon runner and not a relay racer.