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FORMER national chairman of the Association of Traditional Rulers of Oil
Minerals Producing Communities of Nigeria, ATROMPCON, and the paramount ruler of Seimbiri Kingdom in Delta State, HRM Charles Ayemi-Botu, aka Lion of the Niger, spoke to Saturday Vanguard on the reign of terror by Boko Haram and what South-South delegates to the National Conference at Abuja must put on the table. Excerpt.
Boko Haram has clearly gone wild, what are your thoughts on the group’s violent activities?
Well, it is a very sad commentary, the Boko Haraam we are talking about now never started now, you would talk about the Maitatsine men in the early ’80s, where some religious fanatics started in Kano, Kaduna and were cutting people’s neck, maiming and doing all other things, that was the period of Shagari government.
It ended but unknown to us, it has not ended. It is like having a private army, some of the ethnic groups have some sort of people they use before the coming of the British colonialist, it could be tribal war lord or any name, you can also remember Usman Dan Fodio, who was seen as having a kind of the Hittites, a megalomaniac kind of idea, not satisfied only living in a place, but conquerors, those who conquer where they are but others perceived to be as strong neighbour, thinking of conquering from the desert till the Atlantic.
Without mincing words, in 2011, unfortunately with the death of former President Yar’Adua and with Jonathan, then his Vice President completing his tenure and seeking to contest proper as president, hell was let loose. While the results were still being announced, his opponents in the North said that they were going to make Nigeria ungovernable; that they were going to heat up the polity if Jonathan wins. We have a very shallow memory; this is where the whole thing started again.
If you say so but Boko Haram has gone beyond merely heating up the polity over election result?
My take on Boko Haram is that if you create a masquerade, and lead it out to dance, either for alms or for festival to entertain, the masquerade knows its master’s voice as to when to end or start, but when the masquerade turn and not listens to the master, it now turn to be a boomerang, that is the Boko Haram that we are seeing today. It was a ploy to create or to heat up the polity so as to make the governance of this country ungovernable. Unfortunately, the plan of using Boko Haram in doing it has now backfired by now going round within the axis which it knows best.
The US and some other countries have come on the invitation of Nigeria, are you okay with the foreign intervention?
In my own opinion, I think terrorism is a worldwide problem and no one is an expert in it, I do welcome the international community coming into it because Boko Haram has a link with Al Queda, Almagreb, ElShabab, they are working in synergy.
Terrorism now has a syndicate and being sponsored by multi-millionaires giving them all what they need. Since they are working in tandem and we don’t know when it will end, the advanced countries have not been ableto curb Al Queda and their splinter groups are spreading in Africa, and now in West Africa. It will also do them good, as Nigeria is a very important country to them in Africa.
As a retired soldier, what will you advice Jonathan to do in the search for the Chibok girls?
What Jonathan need now is community policing, we need to have the local fighters from the area who understand the Sambisa forest, Can I come to a place I don’t know and achieve results, look at Borno state governor, the man is cantankerous, the governor is saying things as if he is sponsoring them, I mentioned that there is a political dimension to this, what they are doing is simply heat up the polity, as Aso Rock Villa is meant for some people, and not everybody. So for that reason when there is crisis, then the country becomes ungovernable and we are now looking to the prediction of John Campbell, the American Ambassador, who in 2005 said Nigeria will break into precipice come 2015.
This was 10 years ago when Boko Haram has not been known to be visible, but political interest has set in, some are saying the girls are in Nigeria, others say they are not in Nigeria, Chinese people were abducted in Cameroun and whisked to Nigeria, so if you are a governor of a state where this hell is let loose and the man is not cooperating, how can we be able to get them, only Jonathan cannot do it because some people have their selfish interest to rule this country eternity and for that reason, all what they are after is let that innocent man be pulled out of Aso Rock so that they will come back.
So I am seeing that it requires us all to synergize, those in the flash point states that are having something to hide. They should all come out. Recently, you see the North resisting extension of emergency rule, you see people with animalistic instinct, in spite of the hell that has been let loose, people are being bombed daily, some people are saying they should no longer extend the emergency, do you think that these people have the sensibility of human beings, do you think that this thing really affect them, do they think it is only a particular set of people that are suffering this thing? So my feeling is that Jonathan is doing well, we now have the sympathy from politicians, military, international community and these people are not ready to assist because they wanted to use these girls issue as a kind of ransom, hold them, we will get this, that is what is going on.
I want you to talk about the goings-on at the National Confab?
I think the national confab is one of the best thing that the President has done, it is something that his predecessors dreaded, some even think when you put up a national conference it would jettison the position, but will push that the President and National Assembly should go, and when he announced it, some people kicked against it, a set of people said no, that it was a political agenda of the President, that he want to use it to allay the fears of people so that he could find his way back.
But while there now, those who initially say they don’t want to attend have now changed their mind after consultation that they are coming; they have come up with a sinister agenda against their opponents.
You know the North and South dichotomy; they don’t want a kind of Presidential constitution with t a loose federation where states, ethnic groups that that make up this country are federated under the name Nigeria will have equal rights.
What they want is that if I have anything that is coming from my own state, the government shares it for use for the entire country. They don’t want others to have a say on it, which is the negative agenda they came with, to run down certain policies and programmes that have been put in place before the conference started.
They want to jettison them, take for instance- that 13 per cent derivation be reduced to 5 per cent, they should dissolve Niger Delta Ministry, they should dissolve NDDC, but with that kind of shallow mindedness, one wonders whether they forgot the past, so they don’t remember that in the past, when agriculture was the economic mainstay in the 50s, the principle of derivation was 50 per cent and they used it to their advantage.
How do you assess the performance of South-South delegates so far?
Some South-East and South-West professionals were not happy the way our members are going, they appear so miffed and so dumbfounded that they cannot be able to withstand their Northern counterparts, suffice it to say that a fiscal federalism has to do with equity, principle of fairness and justice.
We are saying that if there was any time in the annals of the country there was 50 per cent derivation and we are just far below in 13 per cent per cent, the Abacha government said not less than 13 per cent, so why should somebody, who said he does not have a sinister agenda wake up today to say it should be reduced to 5 per cent.
I think it is time to redefine our destiny, the national conference is to redefine our destiny, our destiny to be or not to be, this time, we have to say that you people have been cheating us, during the agro-economy, now it is oil that has been keeping us going, every bit, federal character the North gets the majority, so let it be 50 per cent.
My very solemn advice to our delegates, we have a lot of fire brands among them, we have the likes of Chief Edwin Clark, Prof Godwin Darah, they can hold their own position in the conference, they are so many, what we are seeing is that some are saying is that the President is a Southerner, if the President is a Southerner, that should not in any way make them to mellow down or reduced us before the North. Besides the President have many political appointees from the North, so why must you use because Jonathan is from the South and that we cannot stand our ground?
It is to be or not to be, they should stand their ground and say that since 1994 the principle of derivation is 3 per cent, Abacha also created a Ministry of Solid Minerals Resources and in 1995 Abacha announced that it has increased to 13 per cent and that also a Ministry of Solid Minerals be created with a minister, and that one commenced immediately but the derivation did not commence until 1999 when Obasanjo took over and the money was not paid until 2000.
What am I saying; I understand they are proposing 5 per cent for the North, from where? They should stand their ground, let them not go there and come back if derivation does not increase from the present 13 per cent. We are saying the present 13 per cent is too small and the North is slapping us on the face by saying it should be reduced to 5 per cent.
We will hoot at our delegates for a shoddy job done if they play a Second fiddle, the 13 per cent must go to 50 per cent, if they cannot stand on the 50 per cent, then they must have something to show for it, at least 30 per cent, so let them remain in Abuja if they cannot fight to increase the 13 per cent.
What we are saying in the South-South is that our delegates must fight to see that the 13 per cent derivation does remain stagnant because Abacha said not less than 13 per cent. They should insist on true federalism, regional autonomy, that is what the South-West is also saying.