Politicising insurgency will not help war against Boko Haram –Mantu

Former Deputy Senate President, Senator Ibrahim Nasir Mantu, has warned that the attitude of some individuals towards the war against insurgency was inimical to the success of the war against terrorist’s activities in Nigeria. He, however, told Politics Editor, Celestine Okafor in Abuja that insurgency in the land would soon be a thing of the past.

There have been claims especially by the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) and other pro-Jonathan groups,that the President has done so well. Does it agree with your own assessment of the President’s achievements? Well, l believe that the three and a half years of President Goodluck Jonathan’s government has done its best to look into the root cause of our present national problems. What has been happening in the past is that we have been beating about the bush.

 This is the first time in the history of this country that a government decided to get to the root cause of our problems. Now, beyond the issue of setting up a National Conference to look into these problems and seek ways to address it, this government has taken a very bold step to tackle the challenges we have in the power sector. Mr. President has severally assured the nation that he would stabilise power supply during his tenure and today, we are gradually seeing the result of the effort being made by the government in that regard.

If you recall, there was a time when a former Minister of Power in this country, late Chief Bola Ige of blessed memory, boasted that within six months he would turn around the poor power situation in Nigeria for good. Bola Ige obviously did not appreciate what it takes to have a stable power supply when he made that statement. In the last three and half years of President Jonathan’s tenure, his government has brought in experts to find out how many Mega Watts of electricity that this country requires to meet our power supply needs and also, the transmission capacity we can generate. 

The government has equally challenged the experts to find out our power distribution capacity. Even if we generate the quantity of power that the nation needs and we don’t have the capacity to transmit it, there will be no light anywhere. So there are three approaches to achieving results in this area- generating the right quantity, transmitting and distributing the right quantity before everybody can have sufficient electricity supply. It takes time for that to happen. You see, it takes time to have a child. Before that can happen, you must marry and then wait for nine months for you to have that child. So our people cannot just see this change overnight or that adequate power supply so suddenly.

They must be patient for us to generate, transmit and distribute the quantity of power we require. If you look at the communication sector, the success we achieved in that area didn’t happen overnight. We first had to unbundle NITEL. In those days when l was living in Lagos, if l want to speak with somebody abroad, l will go to NITEL office even at 3am in the early morning and wait until l make my call. Sometimes, it takes several hours of trying to connect to the person you want to speak to. 

But when NITEL was unbundled and the appropriate legislation was put in place which attracted investors from different parts of the world, things in that sector improved. Today, all of us can speak to any person in any part of the world from any jungle in Nigeria. That is what electricity is also going to be in due course when the government finishes addressing it squarely. I am happy to say, that President Goodluck Jonathan’s government has actually gotten to the root cause of the problem and it is indeed addressing the power problem and we are beginning to see the improved power supply in the country. 

The problem we are having presently is that some of the private power companies that invested in the sector did not know what they were going into. They under estimated the amount of money required to actually generate, transmit and distribute power supply. So government has really made giant strides in the power sector in the last three years but which has not been felt by the people because they are still in a gestation period. So, people have not started feeling the impact for them to appreciate that.

Because of that, it appears to the people that government is doing nothing. That is the problem. Now that government has identified those basic things that debar us from achieving our potential as a nation, it seem to me that the identification of the problem is the beginning of solution to the problem. In the very near future when these things have materialised, we will begin to see some commendation for the government from the people.

We can’t be talking about what the government has achieved without also looking into what it has failed to achieve within the period under review. The challenge of insecurity and the intractable insurgency activities in the land still remains a sore spot in Mr. President’s record?

The issue of insecurity is a challenge that has virtually overwhelmed government and everybody in this country. I, personally, have never thought that there is any challenge or rebellion in any part of this country that cannot be crushed promptly. I have always believed that government has the might and power to contain any form of insurrection in the land within days. But l am now seeing a situation where something has gone beyond the ability of government to deal with it decisively and we are all very worried. 

When l asked why it is so, l am told that this is a different kind of war, that it is not a conventional war. If it were a conventional war where the enemy is identified and we know where they and their collaborators are operating from, the nation would have dealt with the Boko Haram people a long time ago. But this war is more of an intelligence war. You don’t know the enemy.

The enemy could be among you and you may not know. You also don’t know who is responsible for what. Government has made overture to these people, to dialogue with them in other to know how to solve their problems. But unfortunately, they have refused to send a delegation to talk on their behalf. So government is now stranded because they don’t know who to talk to within the Boko Haram group so that they can lay down their arms. That is why it appears as if government is unable to fight the insurgents.  

Again, apart from the insurgency in the North- Eastern part of Nigeria, l can tell you that what we are witnessing in Nigeria today is like what the Holy Book said will happen on the judgement day. The Holy Book said that on the judgement day, if you rush to mountain, you will find out that the mountain is burning. You rush to the river, you will discover that it is boiling.

There will be nowhere to run to. It appears like that because apart from the North-Eastern part of Nigeria which is battling with Boko Haram, we also have the menace of kidnapping in the South-Eastern part of Nigeria. We have militancy in the South-South part of Nigeria. There is an unprecedented day light armed robbery in the South-Western part of Nigeria as have never witnessed before. The entire nation is engulfed in insecurity problem. 

So l think there is need for government to double its effort in fighting this menace. If the Boko Haram insurgency is difficult to fight effectively how about the other problems in the other geo-political zones? How can we also deal with the ethnic crisis in the Middle-Belt zone. These are the challenges we have as a country and l believe government has the capacity to deal with them decisively and indeed win the war. I therefore want to appeal to government to wake up and double its effort in fighting all these monsters that have reared their ugly heads in most parts of our country.

Are you one of those who believe that government require as much as one billion dollar loan to fight insurgency?

The question is that there is no amount of money that one can say is too much to earn freedom and be secured. Even if it requires a $100 billion and we have the money, the way the security situation is in the country now, spending that kind of money to secure lives and properties is not too much. The primary responsibility of any responsible government is the protection of lives and properties of the citizens. So there is no amount of money that is too much to spare on securing the lives and properties of our people from the ravages of insurgency.

The issue of the abducted Chibok girls is central to this war against insurgency. How would you appraise the effort of government so far to rescue these girls? 

You see, it is a very dicey question you have asked me. People like General Babangida is a former military officer. He understands how they fight this kind of war. And if he says he is impressed and he is claiming to know what has been done which impresses him, l don’t have the kind of information available to him at my disposal. But l am not privy to know how far government has gone in dealing with the situation. 

So l cannot give it (government) kudos and neither can l condemn government because if the effort of government has been made public, then l would be able to assess government’s efforts. Government cannot come out publicly and say this is the strategies or efforts we are making or have made to get the abducted girls back. The government cannot do that because once they do that, it is no longer a strategy because what is strategy is that secret operational formula which is known only to a particular person or group which will help them achieve their goal. 

And l believe that the government’s goal is to get these girls released without any of them being hurt or killed. Therefore, government will not make their strategies open. So those who are saying that the government is not making any serious effort to bring the girls back, possibly meant that the efforts of government is not enough or that government is taking longer than necessary to get the girls freed. Therefore, our plea to government is that whatever effort the it is doing that had impressed General Babangida, they should double their efforts in the interest of the ordinary people who do not know what the government had done or is doing to save the girls.

The Northern Elders Forum (NEF) has said that President Goodluck Jonathan should not contemplate running for the 2015 presidential election if the government fails to bring back the Chibok girls and also resolve the insecurity problem in the country. Are you comfortable with that ultimatum?

You see, anyone you give that kind of ultimatum may be emboldened to go ahead and defy such directive. For me, l don’t want anybody to threaten me. In giving that kind of ultimatum, is the Northern Elders Forum saying that they love the Chibok girls more than Mr. President. Dr Goodluck Jonathan is the President of all Nigerians. By extension, he is the father of those girls in line with the 1999 Constitution as amended. 

I believe that as a father himself and also as a symbolic father of those girls, he has been at pains over how to get those girls rescued from their captors and return them to their parents who have been in agony in the last 150 days or there about. He has constitutional right to take any action in the interest of the freedom of those girls. 

And one thing l want to say here, is that we should not politicise the release of the Chibok girls. People are politicising a very serious human misfortune and tragedy. The Northern Elders Forum or any individual or group should not do that. There is no connection with the Jonathan contesting the 2015 Presidential election. I want to warn that people should not play politics with such things. All knees must be on the ground in prayers to God to help those who are responsible for getting the girls out of captivity to succeed in their efforts.

The National Conference report has since been submitted to President Goodluck Jonathan for onward passage to the National Assembly and the National Council of States as the President has promised. Would you say that the Conference indeed achieved what it set out to achieve?

I will say that the confab achieved more than it set out to achieve. You will recall that after Mr. President’s inaugural speech and during our first day of sitting at the conference plenary, it was as if you have two parallel lines that can never meet. Everybody came very strongly with his own views to the extent that the leadership of the conference had to give all of us, delegates, sometime to go and calm down. The leadership also had to tell us to nominate our leaders for the discussion that could take place who will always interface with the leadership of the conference on very crucial matters. 

Even if none of the recommendations in the report submitted to the President is implemented, the fact is that the four or five months of dialogue and interactions by delegates, pouring out their minds, is good for this country. The Conference gave the delegates that opportunity to express their minds on all their bottled up emotions. They said everything. The only no-go area is the talk of splitting Nigeria. But otherwise, there was a no no-go area.

That was why delegates spoke frankly. There has not been any Conference in this nation that people spoke their hearts out and very sincerely like this one. At the end of the day, we disagreed to agree. We canvassed reason rather than selfish and parochial views. At the end of the Conference, everybody became friends and we hugged one another on the last days of the confab. It had to be so because most people expected the Conference to fail from the beginning. What remains now is for the report of that Conference to be implemented for the good of this country. The implementation of this report will actually bind us together as one people.

What would you consider as key resolutions of that Conference?

The way the conference de-emphasised the issue of religion, was very fundamental to the unity, peace and stability of this country. That you are a Muslim or Christian does not actually matter. All these divisions, violence and killings going on in the name of religion ought not to happen because every religion in this country preaches, unity and understanding. The conference has also addressed the problems of ethnicity which is an artificial creation. 

There is actually no problem between the different tribes and ethnic groups. There is also nothing different between adherents of the various religions. All the problems, the strife and misunderstanding that we have been having were all artificially created. The only problem that we have had as a people is just poverty. It is common to all the tribes and religion in this country. The conference has been able to address all these issues as much as it could.

INEC has set the dates for the conduct of the general elections into the various elective offices. The Commission has also banned campaign activities up till now which is just about six months to the elections. Is it proper that the party candidates for that election have not yet emerged through the primaries. They are not even known and may not have sufficient time to sell themselves to the electorate because the campaign duration is too short. The voters also would have no time to assess them. What are the implications on the entire electoral process?

It really worries me, but what can l do? It is essentially an arrangement put together by INEC based on their wisdom which details we are not privileged to know. If you recall in the past, the election time table used to give fairly sufficient time for primaries and campaigns to take place but in this case, it is not like that as you rightly observed. 

We just have about five months or less than six months now to the beginning of the presidential election, so l don’t know what magic any president who is re-contesting or any fresh presidential candidate of any political party will do to cover the 774 local governments of this country in just five months. Of course, you know that campaign period is a season of running and jumping for whoever is campaigning for any elective office.

 I believe that a presidential candidate for instance, should be able to spend at least two or three hours in a state or even more than that. So there is no such candidate who can cover the whole 774 local governments in two days. And if you consider that we have 36 states in the country, it means that a presidential candidate will have about six months to do his campaign. For a sitting president who is contesting, he has a lot of engagements added to his or her campaign schedule he has to address press conferences; he has to travel in and out of the country on official assignments and so on. 

So the present arrangement is simply not conducive for any party candidate running for any elective office. But like l said, it is worse for those who are contesting for the office of the president because they are bound to cover the entire nation very well in their campaigns. So the candidates for the 2015 elections will have a tough task meeting with their campaign schedules due to time constraints.

In essence, you’re asking for extension of time or an adjustment in the election  time table by INEC?

That would have been most ideal, but like l said, one is not privy to the factors that may have informed INEC’s decision to structure the election time table the way it did. But allowing for a fairly reasonable time frame for the party primaries and campaigns to ensure a proper interaction with the voters by the party candidates in the course of campaigns would have been more appropriate especially now that we are singing the anthem of credible, free and fair poll. It has been done in the past.

In the light of this, what are you looking forward to in the 2015 election. Won’t you vie for any elective office?

I am totally rendering myself to the will of the lord. My future, political or private, is in the hands of the lord. He will intercede for me at all times. I trust in Him!

You had a strained relationship with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, especially after the failure of his controversial third term bid. What is your relationship with him like now?

Well, as far as l am concerned, former President Olusegun Obasanjo remains a very good friend of mine. We have been talking even after the third term incident. When l lost my brother some three weeks ago and he was China or somewhere, l was surprised that that very day l lost my brother even when most people here in Abuja have not heard the news about my brother’s death, Obasanjo already knew about it.

 I don’t know how he heard it. At about 5am early morning, l got a telephone call from him commiserating with me on my brother’s death. That was the last talk we had. So despite the issue of third term, we still remain friends. He is resting now after all his time as president. I am also resting after the job of a deputy senate president. So, all of us are resting (general laughter).

President Goodluck Jonathan is yet to declare his intention to re-contest. Presently, there are many pro-Jonathan organisations including the Jonathan Support Group (JSG) of which you are chairman. When do you think it is appropriate for the president to make his declaration and why do you want him when most Nigerians think he hasn’t done enough to warrant second term?

Well, many people want to play politics. And they cannot all be accommodated in the executive positions of the various political parties. And when they could not find accommodation in the executive positions of the party, they now formed the presidential support group. So individuals have come together and said that since we are not officers in PDP and they love President Goodluck Jonathan, they decided to set up non-governmental organisations to help the PDP to spread the gospel of re-election of Mr. President and also highlight what he has done for Nigeria and the people of Nigeria in the last few years of his tenure as president.

These people are essentially volunteers who chose to emphasis some of the good things that have happened to the nation under the Jonathan era of the PDP government. And in a free country like Nigeria, you can’t stop anybody from expressing support for anybody. People are equally giving the same support to General Muhammadu Buhari of the APC and many others aspiring to presidency. 

It is their right. And the more popular somebody is, the more some groups emerge to support him. I can tell you that there are over 3000 of such support groups nationwide. They are on their own  . Nobody is giving them a kobo. They are funding themselves and their activities for now. Whether they are doing that out of patriotism or self interest is left to the interpretation of any individual.

But the ultimate goal is that they believe in somebody and they are out to support that person. That is that. Now on the issue of why Mr. President has not declared his intention, INEC said that anybody who declares such intention before it lifts the ban on election campaigns will be violating the law. So President Jonathan wants to live by example. As the president of the country, the way he conducts himself matters.

 If he starts breaking the law, every other person will follow suit and it will not be good for the country’s morality and discipline. That is why he is complying with the law. Secondly, l am not privy to what is in his mind, whether he will contest or not. What if l say he will contest and he does otherwise? But for now, we can say that the president is a law abiding citizen. So we are waiting.

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