… Escalating insecurity, threat to general elections •Insurgency being created in South East
Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, who represents Abia South in the Senate, is the Minority Leader of the upper legislative chamber, a position he has held since 2019. In an exclusive interview with FRED ITUA, the former deputy governor of Abia State spoke on why the 2023 general elections may not hold, rising insecurity in the country, zoning in PDP, and growing insurgency in the South East, among others.
What’s your take on the zoning controversy rocking your party, the PDP?
The issue is that, the party in power, APC, which has failed Nigerians in every ramification, is making the push that the PDP should make a pronouncement on the issue of zoning long time before our convention. Our convention will take these things into consideration. What we have now is just a report. You don’t force the party to take a decision about two years before an election, when there are certain aspects of the law that forbids that. Section 36, 14 and others dwell on these issues. These sections guarantee certain rights of Nigerians. Therefore, no party can come out and exclude any part of Nigeria. A party can have a discussion and abide by certain decisions when the appropriate time comes. For those of us from the South East, the PDP report recognises us. The report said the party should recognise the fact that the South East and the North East have not been at the helm of affairs. What we need to do as people from these areas is to do more work and seek the understanding of others.
If that’s the case, has the South East started its negotiation and consultation with other parts of the country?
We can’t preclude the fact that some people are already discussing. I’ve had the same discussion with some people from the South East. Somebody can start today and in the end, he won’t do anything. He could just be a red herring. In politics, you have to keep discussing until the electoral body gives the go-ahead.
If the current Electoral Amendment is passed, it means elections may start early next year. Shouldn’t serious people from the South East begin to solicit support now?
When people are having discussions and reaching out, they don’t make it open. At the right time, it will come to the open. I’ve had discussions with some people. Many politicians are already doing same thing.
In 2019, many leaders from the South East allegedly worked against Peter Obi and the PDP. Have those issues been resolved and would they likely surface again?
I can’t answer that right now. The circumstances that made some people to take the decision in 2019 may not arise again in 2023. People will also have to look at the present situation before they can take certain decisions. I’ll prefer that we put that behind us and look into the future. The most important thing today is that, we don’t know if the 2023 general elections will be possible or hold. People have been talking. We don’t have to behave like Nero who fiddles while Rome is burning. There is the fear of insurgency. The biggest problem now is insecurity. We don’t want to overlook what can break the country and focus on ephemeral issues like the elections which may not hold.
Are you saying that if the issue of insecurity is not tackled, elections may not hold?
If the issues I’ve listed are not tackled, I don’t know how we can hold it together within the next two years. I really don’t know. How can you guarantee tomorrow? South East used to be the safest zone. Today, there is an insurgency being created within the South East. You should be worried. The same thing is happening in the South West. All of a sudden, there is unrest all over the country. Recently, the governor of Zamfara State said about 35,000 insurgents were in the state. That’s the number of the military size of some countries. If one state has that number, how are we sure that other states don’t have same? We should work and ensure that we don’t just focus on Abuja and leave the other parts of the country. With all the things happening, Abuja isn’t safe anymore. We must deal with these issues. We lay the blame at the feet of the government in power, which came into office and promised to tackle insecurity. Six years down the line, it has worsened. We need to tell them to try and fix the mess.
Let me take you back to zoning. Is it safe to conclude that the PDP is yet to decide on the issue of zoning?
I’ve not attended any meeting where such a position was taken. It is therefore very safe to conclude that the PDP has not taken any position on the issue of zoning. With everything happening, by the time we get to our national convention, the picture will be clearer. Even the APC has refused to take a decision. They’re waiting for the PDP to decide on zoning so they can find a way to salvage the tatters of their credibility by going the opposite way of the PDP.
With the goings on, is President Muhammadu Buhari and the security agencies overwhelmed? Should Nigeria solicit international support or hire mercenaries to tackle the issue of insecurity?
I don’t support that position. What we have now is the outcome of a deliberate policy of the sectionalisation of the Army in Nigeria. They have done this by deliberately putting less competent people and weeding off competent ones because they come from a particular section of the country. That has led to the degrading of the effectiveness of the Armed Forces. This is the same Military that has done well in other countries. Suddenly, with all the modern gadgets at our disposal and massive fund- ing, we are getting such results? I read in the papers of an attack in Damasak. How could that happen? I heard Boko Haram terrorists took away their arms. This was an area we were told had been pacified. Nigerians no longer believe what the government of the day says. On the floor of the Senate, I was so angry that I had to make a statement. I said those who live by propaganda will die by it. What’s is really happening? Is it the training or the quality is wrong? The other day, I said the real problem is not that people are doing what is wrong. Instead, they’re pushing it in our faces and telling us that we can’t do anything. Many senators cannot go to their villages. They’ve brought the same thing to the South East so that I won’t be able to travel home too.
From your responses, is it okay to ask for foreign support?
These are the questions those in operational control should answer. I’m looking at the facts from a layman’s point of view. Soldiers have told me that they’re competent enough to deal with the matter. They said they have many obstacles they deal with. I read about a soldier who killed himself in Borno. He went into depression. They were supposed to be rotated. He had been there for a long time and felt hopeless. For the political authority, what decisions are they taking?
You sponsored a bill on Armed Forces Commission? What caused the furore we witnessed on the floor?
I don’t think the opposition was from the South or North; I think the opposition was because they didn’t understand the bill. It seemed that some members of APC have a default position that anything that comes from the opposition is seen as being targeted at President Buhari. They want to be seen as good boys. President Buhari had already appointed the service chiefs. It was an outcome of what was already in the constitution. Section 217 stated it clearly that the leadership of the Armed Forces shall be according to the Federal Character. In Section 219, it said the National Assembly must ensure that the Constitution is upheld. The framers of the constitution knew the dangers ahead in the sectionalisation of the Military. We have turned a blind eye to that aspect of the Constitution. We have left everything in the hands of the Commander- In-Chief. We wanted to follow the Constitution and remedy the situation. People wanted to be seen to be protecting the President. They didn’t want to look at the merits of the bill. We may have to still take another look. The bill was stepped down. It had already raised so much rancour. We had to step it down and reconsider it at a later date. Now that they’ve read it, we may have a saner discussion on it.
The National Assembly in the last two years has approved about $38 billion as loans for President Buhari? Why is the opposition not talking?
We said no to it and opposed it. We met then the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Because we didn’t have the number, it was still passed. My job is to state our position. Some of the loans taken were completely frivolous. It was brought before the 8th Senate and Saraki didn’t pass it. Passing it in the 9th Senate was injurious to Nigerians. We even told the Senate President to allow us look at the merit of the loan. There was a clause for a loan of $500 million for NTA. This is wrong. If we are taking a loan, we will all pay for it. The government will leave in two years and they want to leave us with a huge burden. We have not seen the benefits of the loan. What are the benefits of Nigerians to take a loan and build a rail line to Niger Republic? Imagine the Minister of Transport telling us that they had to beg Niger Republic to allow us build a rail line into their country. The first time the railway matter came up in the 8th Senate, I raised a point. I said there was Eastern and Western corridors. The Minister said the Eastern rail line was concessioned to General Electric. We rejected it. Today, they’re telling us a different story entirely. You take a loan to build new rail lines for other parts of the country and then concession that of the South East. The two lines are sup- posed to intersect in Kaduna. A narrow and rolling stock, how will they link up? The amount of money they’re budgeting for the repairs of the narrow gauge line can build a new one. There are already everything in place. Just to change a few things. Today as I speak, they’re yet to get funding for the Eastern rail line. They’re telling us that we are second-class citizens and this is being supervised by someone who claims to be an Igbo man. I remember asking Rotimi Amaechi a question why he was building a university in Katsina State. He said it was a gift from the Chinese Government. I asked if he thought it was not embedded into the loan.
Credit: Daily Sun