Liad Tella is a foremost name in journalism in the country where he created an image for himself as a prolific writer, sound analyst and social commentator. The political scientist was once the General Manager of the defunct National Concord newspaper and was later the Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of the Monitor newspaper. He was the chairman, Pilgrims Welfare Board (Muslim wing) in Osun State before becoming a National Commissioner with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON. He is presently the Asiwaju Musulumi of Iwo land. In this interview with Razaq Bamidele in Lagos, he said Nigerians should be blamed for security challenges in the country. He also said that blaming acts of banditry on any particular tribe or section of the country is nothing but arrant nonsense. The 72-year-old former Senior Research Fellow with the University of Ilorin also took his media constituency to the cleaners, accusing them of escalating the crisis through biased reporting and spreading of hate messages.
By your own assessment, is Nigeria really drifting towards the precipice?
Well, I have read severally about the drift, the insecurity in the North-east, the insecurity in the North-west, the herdsmen/farmers clashes and banditry. I have my worries about all these things. I also think that probably Nigerians are not mindful of the consequences of effective ventilation of the crisis.
How do you mean?
Okay, let me take them one by one. When the Boko Haram issue broke out, I remember I had an interview with the former Governor of the Central Bank, CBN, now the Emir of Kano, Mallam Sanusi Lamido, in Munna on Mount Arafat in Saudi Arabia, in 2009 to be precise. And I was not comfortable with certain happenings within the economic milieu in Nigeria. Then I asked, what happened because you are the Governor of the CBN. Then, he laid down what the government had put in place.
But there is distinction between what the government had put in place and what is actually on ground. There is no president or vice president or governor that would go down to the floor to supervise activities. Even if they are held responsible, there is limit to what they can do. They can only formulate the policy and hand over to some certain people. The tragedy of Nigeria is that those entrusted with implementation of principal goals, direct principle of governance and developmental projects recline to themselves to first of all organise self-development before the national development. So, for me, I think Nigerians, the media, those who govern and civil servants are contributors to the despicable state of the nation today.
This man told me in Munna that if there is going to be problem in Nigeria, it is going to start from the North-east. I asked him why?
He said, globally, North-east of Nigeria is the lowest in terms of per capita income. In global index, the North-east is worse than Rwanda; worse than Somalia, worse than Sudan and he listed other places. Then, unfortunately, he said there are more idle hands in that region. He said if care is not taken and the government act fast to engage them, a bush fire is likely to start in the North-east, particularly in Borno and Yobe. Was he not right?!
And when the trouble started, I was still writing columns in the Daily Newswatch. And my position at that time was that we should nip that thing in the bud. What the late President Umaru Yar’Adua did was to moderate and begin the process of de-radicalisation of the South-south for the Amnesty Programme. Some people believe that Amnesty Programme should have been instituted in Borno and Yobe so that those who were with arms could surrender their ammunitions for national security and for government to guarantee that whatever their problem is, the government would look into it the way it did with OMPADEC, Niger Delta Development and what not.
A situation where all of us bear the blame is that, we are now caged with ethnic discrimination and religious prependalism to becloud our sense of judgement. We just look at it. On a reflection on Nigeria, there is really nothing new. I have run columns in four or five newspapers in Nigeria; Punch, Concord, The Monitor and the Newswatch Daily. There is nothing really new that we have not written about. Go to the archive today and check.
People have forgotten, there was a time around 1986/87, that dare devil armed robbers literally took over government in Lagos. They would write notice to residents that they were coming and they would come to raid. People have forgotten about all that. But when Lagosians rose up to defend themselves from the bandits, from the hoodlums, they won. The hoodlums would come and raid a whole street. They would come in their large numbers about 50 or more to burgle and rob. We stopped it. If we had left it to the government, they would not have done it. The whole community rose up. That was when the now popular Community Associations came to being. They sprang up in Lagos to join the government, to assist the government to fight the monster.
Gambo Jimeta came in as Inspector General of Police, IGP, and gave shoot-at-sight order. I remember Concord ran a big story on Oko-Oba 7. I remember that there was a time somebody called Aninih, a notorious armed robbery kingpin that would raid Ijebu Ode, Lagos, Ibadan and Oyo before heading back to his base in Benin City in Edo State. We remember Shina Rambo’s banditry par excellence! He would rob, rob and rob and would have a chain of vehicles snatched. He would then lead the vehicles to Benin Republic where they were reconditioned with engine number and chassis numbers changed and resold to Nigeria. And he would go in convoy unchallenged! Have we witnessed anything close to that in the last 10, 15 years? Are people’s memories so short? Or is it because of tendency to blackmail or give dog a bad name in order to hang it? Lagos, Ijebu Ode, Ore to Benin has been one of the most dangerous in the history of Nigeria. For more than 40 years since the expressway was completed, you ply the road at night at your own peril. What was not common then was kidnapping, but armed robbers robbed with ease. And every other day, the Waterside people, the Ijaws and others were not blackmailed and ridiculed for being the pivotal organisations that institutionalised armed robbery on that route.
I also travelled severally by road to Sokoto and between Kotangora and Mokwa and Kebbi. There are boundaries of two or four villages that from time immemorial have been danger zone. I remember I did a piece in Concord on that spot and the military went there and rooted them out. So, this thing has been with us for a long time. But it is now fashionable for those who want to hang this government to pin it absolutely on the government. I am not defending the government because the primary responsibility of government is to provide national security for the nation and the citizens of this country. Safety of lives and property, movement without harassment and undue danger, on the highway, the express or even on the local roads are the responsibility of the government.
So, the state of the nation as it is now, take your mind back to the 70s, the 80s and the early 90s, like a mathematician and bring out the results to see whether what is happening now is totally out of order. People tend to forget and journalism is helping them to forget. That is the tragedy of my profession!
Are you saying pinning banditry on Fulani herdsmen is inappropriate?
It is arrant nonsense. A criminal is a criminal anywhere in the world. Just last week, about 29 people were gunned down in Texas in America. And it has been happening like that every three months in the last five or six years. Does that make America unsafe to invest or to trade? America is the most challenged country security wise. Every hour of the day, somebody is going to be killed in many spots in America. In terms of xenophobic attacks, South Africa is the most unsafe country on the continent of Africa. Do you see their media concentrating on that? Criminals need publicity. And once they are given, they enjoy it. It means you are assisting them o advertise their trade. If the media had lived up to their responsibility, and journalists have behaved typically the way we did in our days, the insecurity in the country today would probably have been managed better.
But when you blow the trumpet of insecurity, there would be anxiety. Somebody wrote that there was insecurity in Osun State, and said people should not travel through the Ilesha/Ondo road. I read it and picked up my car and raced down to Osun. I drove from Iwo, through to Gbongan, to Ilesha, to Akure and returned from there to Ile-Oluji, to Ondo town to Ore. From Ore to Ijebu Ode and to Ibadan. Then from Ibadan back to Iwo. If what the media painted was what it is, there would not be vehicular movement at all on those roads. And yet, you find traders in their hundreds in those areas almost on daily basis. Hundreds, if not thousands of vehicles ply that roads on daily basis. For the media to jump to conclusion and even dramatise it, you have to look at the ratio value. Unfortunately, we don’t have basic data in Nigeria. In Saudi Arabia, no public transport bus can move from one town to another without being captured in the data base. As soon as your vehicle hit the road, moving towards Jiddah, Makkah or Madinah or Tahif or anywhere, your data is captured automatically. So, Saudi government can say, this is the number of vehicles in Makkah at a particular time.
The thing is gradually coming up in Nigeria because there are manifests all over our motor parks for travellers. If you board vehicles from the motor park, your manifest would be taken, home address, phone number, next of kin and so on. So, it means we are moving. We may not be moving at the speed we like, but we are moving. Certainly, Nigeria is not static. Insecurity is caused by us. We Nigerians are the causes, we are responsible for it. When you spread hate, what do you get? We spread hate against a particular tribe. That tribe would inherently become hateful towards you. A certain northerner, Hausa Fulani, to an innocent Yoruba man, is a northerner. The only parts of Nigeria, the only two states that have predominantly Fulani population are Adamawa and Taraba. It is only in Adamawa that Fulfude is spoken as a national language. An average Adamawa man speaks Fulfude.
I don’t want to insult my leader and patriarch of Islam, our Sultan of Sokoto doesn’t speak Fulfude. The Emir of Kano does not speak Fulfude. The Emir of Zaria does not speak Fulfude. Yet, everybody is categorised as Hausa/Fulani. Fulani language has been lost in the North-west, totally lost. The North-central people are Fulani and not Hausa. Yes, many of them are Muslims. Islam did not pass to Borno through the Sokoto Caliphate. Islam had been in Borno 200 years before the Fulani jihad. Idris Aloma, the Kanem Borno Empire, preceded Sokoto Caliphate by 400 years. But people just take to blackmail because it suits them to do so. This Islam phobia is another cause of national insecurity.
Then, what is the solution?
Well, first and foremost, let me identify how the problem escalated in the first place. When Boko Haram was said to have been degraded under former President Goodluck Jonathan before they were actually degraded under President Buhari, I said something in my column that the dilution of elements of Boko Haram into the Nigerian society is what you must look after. The remnants of Boko Haram in the areas that had been captured may diffuse into the society and bring up extremism in the other parts of Nigeria. Nobody seemed to have listened to that. If you degrade and those being de-radicalised by the army, what is their total number? There is a linkage that is yet to be disclosed by the army and other security agencies.
And what are they?
One, what is the source of the ammunition used by Boko Haram? Those Boko Haram elements captured by the Nigeria Army, why were they not exposed for what they were? How many of them were actually Muslims? How many of them could read the Qur’an? How many of them could observe Salat? What is the ideology of Boko Haram? What is Islamic about Boko Haram? People just brand this thing without any substance. What is the Islamic ideology offered by Boko Haram that makes it an Islamic sect? So, by giving it a toga of Islamic sect, you are giving it unnecessary recognition and unwarranted platform to begin to gather support from international sources, which hitherto shouldn’t have been so.
What do we do?
The government has reverted to what happened in Lagos; community solution to the issue of insurgency and community solution to the issue of the herdsmen and farmers. And I want to say with all sense of responsibility is that the Afenifere group has not been very helpful. They are seniors, sometimes, our fathers. But where did we assemble to give them the mandate to speak on behalf of the Yoruba race? What are the criteria for membership of Afenifere? If you are talking of Awoism, there are many of us that are Awoists in hundreds, thousands that are not in Afenifere. Otherwise, when they hold their meetings, the venue would not be sufficient to accommodate all of us. They speak for Yoruba race without the consent of the Yoruba race.
This Fulani herdsmen crisis, go to Ojoba or Odori market in Iwo, you see products from our farms on market days trooping in large vehicles from all over the places. If truly the Fulani herdsmen had destroyed our farms and made farming impossible, where are these products coming from? Can people reason? Are people unmindful of their environment that we take to undue stigmatisation and xenophobic attacks?
In Iwo my own town, Gaa compound (Fulani settlement) has been in Iwo for over 500 years. And the leadership of the progressive parties in the history of Nigeria from the days of the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo till today, the headquarters is rooted in that Gaa compound. And Oluwo said it that Iwo has the largest settlement of Fulani in the entire western region and there is no crisis. People should come to learn how we manage ourselves. The Igbo are the recent settlers in Iwo. Come and see Eze Ndigbo and his wife, dancing konkoma, the Yoruba dance. They build homes in Iwo. They are dominating commerce in areas that they are specialists. Are we going to send them away? For what? They are marrying our children. Fulani are part of Iwo. I interviewed a Fulani man, Ahmad. He is the Sarkin Fulani of Iwo land in Oba Moro, Ekonife side some 15 or 20 years ago and he said he had prayed to God that if He is recreating when he dies, He should, please, kindly return him to Iwo. He has a large farm, hectares of land that he bought long time ago. And many rich Yoruba men are also herders. Go and find out. Many of us rear cows. Many rich Yoruba men have up to 500 cows. Every cow you see in Yoruba land is not owned by Fulani. It is owned by the Yoruba. The Fulani that are in Iwo now, their children have gone to school. They don’t have real herders again. They have to employ herders from other places like Zamfara to come and help them to feed their stock and pay them monthly allowances. So, people still see herdsmen as the ancient bush Fulani type. It has transcended that. That is the truth. Let the media go and dig into this. I feel sick and worried over the xenophobia attacks on the Fulani. What are the total hectares of land available in Yoruba and the East that we are complaining the Fulani are taking over our land? Which land? The total land area in the South-west and the South-east is about 1/5 of the total area of land in the North. And anybody who says the whole land in the North is desert is a nincompoop, not well informed. I served in the Nigeria Population Commission, NPC, in 2005-2006 census preparatory programme, as a member of Publicity Committee in Taraba, Adamawa and Yobe. These are thick forests in Nigeria. That is where we have Mambilla Plateau and all these waterfalls. If Nigeria concentrates and organises fishing in that area, we will export and export and export. I wonder what the local governments are doing. What would it take them to establish a fish factory, process and begin to export?
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How can we stop it in specific terms?
Well, community policing is the answer as well as officially established linkages between community policing and local vigilante groups. When you do that, you are likely to get to the roots of the crisis. There is no part of Nigeria where criminals in their midst are not known. So, federalisation of the Nigeria Police is the major problem. State police is inevitable, community police is inevitable. In those days in the First Republic, we had local police. And we had regional police as we had federal police. So, what happened? We must go back and re-invent the wheel of security. Let the chiefs, the monarchs and so on be brought into this. Particularly, the government needs to organise a kind of open forum for Muslim and Christian preachers for talk because they are the ones setting the country ablaze. What they always say in their places of worship is never in the national interest. It is in the interest of their pockets. And anybody that is not bold enough to preach against the Federal Government is not seen as a good preacher. The more you abuse, the more recognition you get and the more money you acquire. Religion is said to be the opium of the people. But, we need to know that it is not totally opium. It could be an instrument of national unity to galvanise progress. A Nigerian, just last week was recognised by Britain and admitted into the British Empire by the Queen of England. Many of those are happening inside Nigeria. We are making progress. So, let us glorify our success and talk less of our failure. If we celebrate our failure, failure will continue to hunt us. That is another panacea to our problem. Let us stop talking evil of our country and stop cursing our leaders because the curse would bounce back on you.
Are you an advocate of Yoruba presidency in 2023?
Presidency is the right of every Nigerian, including the Angas, the Ibibio, the Igbo, the Ekiti, Ijebu and so on. The Egba have dominated us in Yoruba land sufficiently well. We are not holding them responsible. But there is somebody here in Yoruba land that probably has the wherewithal to lead the nation. We used to have Awolowo, who was the best president Nigeria never had. We had MKO Abiola, who was never given a chance to rule. My people are mentioning Bola Tinubu and they want to shoot him down; why? He has built bridges of understanding across Nigeria more than any Yoruba man in history. I see him as a repacked Awo plus remodelled Akintola. I know many people would not like to hear that, especially we Awoists, but that is the truth. Akintola saw today before yesterday. Alignment with our northern compatriots was first recognised by Akintola. Alliance with self-glorification to the top did not help us. The East aligned with the North and all the goodies between 1960 and 1966 flowed along East to North, and North to East. And because the East is amenable to northern interest, they got everything that they wanted. Here in Yoruba land, we had Gambari Phobia in those days. That kind of negative philosophy is parochial. Who were the people that made it possible for Obasanjo to emerge as President of Nigeria even after the assassination of Murtala Mohammed? Were they not Hausa/Fulani military boys? Did Obasanjo handover to Yoruba man in 1979? Why? Why did he not allow a rerun election and allow Shagari to defeat Awolowo to the glare of the public to let the public see that, Shagari truly emerged? It was a contraption! People have forgotten that. Or the interim contraption that denied my boss, Abiola, the presidency? Obasanjo ran for two terms as civilian president and one term as military Head of State. Pa Isa Kaita spoke in Kotangora, Niger State, during the campaign for Obasanjo’s second term in 2002/2003. He said we can trust Obasanjo, the North would vote for him. And the North voted for him massively. That is northerner for you. Obasanjo is a Christian. Are those people who voted for him not Muslims? What is the cause of hate for Islam and Muslims now? He said they could trust Obasanjo and the reason for that, he said it. He said in 1979, Obasanjo in the helms of affair as president had the opportunity and power to handover power to a Yoruba man, as President of Nigeria, but he did not. He gave it to our son. That was the end of the rally in Kontangora. I witnessed the rally. I was in the same car with the then Governor Kure. We moved from Minna to that place. Where is the hate coming from now? We must stop hate speech. The Babangida interim contraption, did it not fail? Yoruba did not shoot a gun against the northerners. But we engaged in scientific fighting and we won. And that produced Obasanjo so much that Yoruba found themselves in win-win situation in two major political parties. It was Obasnjo and Olu Falae, two presidential candidates from Yoruba land. Are they fools? Are they idiots? Are they haters of Yoruba race? The way they are painting it now, if a child is too young to know the contributions of his father to the development of his country, whether positively or negatively, there must be elders in the community, who will tell the story of his father’s contributions. Thank God we are still living. So, Yoruba presidency in 2023 is feasible and possible.