By Adagbo ONOJA
Central Nigeria says it is under attack from Fulani herdsmen and ‘herdsmen’. Credible leaders of Fulani extraction such as the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano and who are patrons of the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders Association of Nigeria, (MACBAN), the platform articulating the interests of herders, say what is happening is criminality, not organised Fulani agenda. And that it is government’s failure to act that is the problem. But the head of the government, President Muhammadu Buhari, happens to be of Fulani identity who has taken up their case previously. Critics also find the situation in which key security sector appointees of the president as conclusive proof of the agenda. Is it possible to narrow the gap here, especially with the self-understanding of those who make the allegations?
It is in that context that Intervention finds wisdom in republishing this January 2017 interview which predates the current wave of the claims and counter-claims. The interview is republished verbatim, the only difference being that part 1 and 2 have been merged into one whole in this version. The other difference is that Prof Best has since metamorphosed into a gubernatorial aspirant against 2019 but this 53 minutes interview conducted on December 31st, 2016 and published January 1st, 2017 is free of the gubernatorial intent.
Professor Shedrack Gaya Best did not just study Peace and Conflict Studies, he researched it, taught it and also operationalised it in government, thereby becoming a cross between the academic, the technocrat and the politician. He is thus a position to speak with analytical authority on the key perception driving the conflict. Of course, Prof Best is not a disinterested discussant just as no one else is. But, with a First Class in International Studies from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria for his Bachelors, a MSc in Political Science from the University of Jos and a Doctorate in Peace and Conflict Studies from the University of Bradford in the United Kingdom, he is a voice capable of disciplining his subjectivity with the contextual caveats as and when due. The genius of his intervention and his claims, arguments and positions is that they contribute to opening up the space in favour of the kind of inter-discursive process that can produce understanding. That can, in turn, remould peacemaking by breaking down rigidities rather than Nigeria’s fire brigade menu in peace enforcement.
Broadly, Professor Best’s contentions include:
*Why Buhari is implicated in the insecurity in the country
*Where Goodluck Jonathan messed up
* Why restructuring is inevitable
*Why those who read Islamisation agenda to herdsmen violence might not be off the mark
*The central role of climate change in the spate of violence
*And why the last 7 of the military Mohicans (Gowon, Obasanjo, TY Danjuma, IBB, Abdulsalami, Buhari and Aliyu Gusau) cannot save the country.
What is your conception of the upsurge of conflicts in the country even after a near hitch free transition in 2015?
I think it has largely got to do with the priorities of the Nigerian State and the elite. It says a lot about the capacity of the state to perform the most fundamental objective of the state anywhere which is guarantee of law and order. But if you take the state from the psychological disposition or the mindset of the current government, there is a vindictive chasing of enemies. You will hear some people call it anti-corruption war but I call it chasing enemies, as far back as the elements in the military who pushed him out before, to the judiciary for frustrating him from getting to power earlier, to the electoral system equally for blocking his earlier ambition and every politician he linked to that. There is a lot of energy into the pursuit of enemies or perceived enemies.
Then when you look at the lopsidedness of the government and what he actually said in an interview about how those who didn’t vote for him weren’t going to get patronage, then you wonder why the president might be so keen on cleavages after being sworn in. The places where the president got the weakest electoral support are out of this government. They are not of interest to him. And the president has a lot of interest in counter-insurgency, (Boko Haram). The other area of interest is Zamfara where there is a problem between Hausas and Fulanis. He visited there in person and established a framework.
The US has declared herdsmen terrorists. I am not interested in that classification but I am interested in why a problem with the greatest national spread has not attracted a comment from the presidency. Look at the carnage and mayhem. The silence of the presidency is shocking. So, to go back to your question, the high degree of partisanship in the management of peace and security, the lopsidedness in the constitution of the government, all these go to implicate the president in the insecurity crisis.
It is not disputed that the president in Nigeria is, indeed, powerful but power is also diffuse. So, why does the president matter so much in your analysis in this particular situation?
What the president does is vital. The president must show leadership and commitment. The coercive apparatus of the state rests with the president. Governors do not have any operational strength in terms of security. I have been part of the Executive Council at the state level. The Commissioner of Police has to talk to the IG of Police in Abuja. The Army man has to talk to his GOC or somebody like that and so on. The security architecture extremely empowers the Federal Government. That is why some of us have since been canvassing for state police. It is simply because there has been never a time when the Federal police successfully quelled an uprising or any other serious security challenge. Why continue with something that has not worked? I have heard the argument that governors will abuse state police but the presidents are abusing it. How do you explain a situation where an armed group go about committing murder without any consequences for it?
So, you support state police?
Absolutely! I have no reservations whatsoever. The Federal police has not maintained security anywhere. If that is not so, we shouldn’t be seeing criminals everywhere unmolested. Our population in Nigeria now is such that a centralised police structure cannot do the job. How would such a police maintain law and order in Kano which has a population of 10 million? It won’t happen. But the state police can do it because they know the terrain and they are familiar with the cultural framework of the people. That is to say that state police has the job of maintaining law and order at that level. What it means is that the Federal police will still be there but concerned with other things. Of course, the other fear is the question of how to fund the state police. I have always said the answer is to disburse the fund stashed there in Abuja and send bulk of it to the states. That means there has to be revision of the entire budgeting system. And then the state police process will grow through teething problems. But I always say that we can equally break the Civil Defence and let them retrain and form the nucleus of state police across the board.
Why do you think these are not sailing through?
It is because of the nature of our federal system. Some people believe the present system is in their interest and they need the police to secure their domination of the system.
How do you relate this to the campaign for restructuring?
Well, we have had a debate in this country and it led to the National Conference under Jonathan. But this government is not interested in that. They are taking advantage of their grip on power and the lack of balance in the composition of the government to scuttle the realisation of that conference even though there are critical resolutions there. This country is not working.
Any distinctions between your position and Atiku Abubakar’s own position? I am referring to the former Vice-President who is also using that phrase of the country not working.
In a broad sense, I share his position that this country is defective. I do not have clear idea of what the former Vice-President has said, how he has defined it and so on but I am clear about what is involved.
Do you think the present set of elite can handle such an exercise successfully?
It has to be handled by the elite somehow. I know there is unwillingness on the part of this government. The government of the day is a status quo government. It is satisfied with what exists.
Islamisation agenda is the interpretation looming large in relation to the herdsmen aspect of the state of siege in Nigeria now. This persists in spite of the Sultan of Sokoto’s distinction between the armed gangs and Fulanis. Why does the perception persist?
Whether it is a coincidence or an agenda, people who make that point are being proved right. The sceptics are being proved right. Why is that so? The herdsmen killing the natives and taking over their villages tend to be Muslims and the natives are Christians. So, however hard you disown the argument, it continues to weaken. Nobody knows where this agenda is coming from but the lopsidedness of this government says a lot. The president himself was some kind of the Pan-African Chairman or something of that nature of the cattle breeders. So, you cannot blame the sceptics. The situation with is, therefore, different. It is not about peace but about security. It has nothing to do with the people not being able to live together. Fulanis and other people can live together and they do live together. But the situation we are dealing with now is about a criminal group arming itself and killing other people. And I am afraid that even within the security community, sentiments have gone deep and it is going to get more and more complicated. The problem we face is not a problem of peace. How do you discuss peace with an armed group which is moving from one state to the other and the government is silent?
Why then has the state become this ineffectual?
Endemic corruption within the security agencies is one reason. One dimension of the problem is that security operatives are no longer neutral. Secondly, you have the partisanship or the politicisation of security that I have talked about. When you add these two to the element of sentiments and begin to define the worth of the Nigerian in terms of the language he speaks, the region he or she comes from and his or her religion, you don’t have a state anymore because such a security force then cannot maintain law and order. In Nigeria, you do not see a sense of revulsion and disgust over death of people. In a proper society, the life of one person extinguished by security lapses is a national embarrassment. Here, it is a recurring thing; the entire people in a whole village are slaughtered and it is just seen as normal. It must be seen as normal because nobody is arresting anybody. So, where then is the state? It is either the state is incompetent or incapable on the one hand or it is the one financing the killings on the other hand.
What is your geopolitical reading of this wave of conflicts? In other words, might Nigeria have been targeted?
I do not believe there is anybody outside Nigeria doing these things. Note that all our neighbours are small countries. They will all find it difficult sustaining involvement in sabotaging Nigeria or being a conduit for that. Nigeria is not a small country. And even if it is from outside, it is still the primary responsibility of the state to organise the people to resist it. So, outside would not be an excuse. My sense is that we are just not thinking seriously about our country. People simply do not want to manage security. If the president tells the IG of Police that he wants arrests, he will get it. Are you saying there is no intelligence available to the government on movement of those perpetrating violence? It is just not their priority. Somehow, they all get it wrong. Jonathan was guilty of the same thing. His management of security was almost the same. And it happened that his strategy had the most negative effect on my own state, Plateau. You will find that more people died, more communities were attacked and more people killed when Plateau was under emergency rule that Jonathan declared than when there was no such emergency. That is where he messed up. The point is that there is no replacement for the state in conflict management. Not yet. Even when you take the multi-track diplomacy model involving all the interests that tackle conflicts, however hard each and every track there tries, there are roles in conflict management that the state must play. If it is not so, there will be killing. No other track can play the role or substitute for the state.
Do you see 2019 unfolding in these conflicts?
Nobody will be out of his mind to think so. As we approach 2019, the pre-occupation of the government would be demonising everyone else so as for them to secure the 2019 ticket. It is a highly propagandistic government. Everyone else is a thief, is corrupt, is undisciplined except the president. It is the product of a failure to understand this society, the very weak development of the forces of production which makes the state the major source of production and reproduction. The largest part of the economy is with the state. Forget about the noise, there is no private sector in Nigeria. Until an industrial economy develops, the state would be in control. So, the question is apt. There is a sense in which 2019 can be seen in the current spate. And the implication there is that the spate, especially the herdsmen violence, could mature or mutate into a complicated emergency. I do not know if that is the strategy but the vague outlines are there to tempt such a conclusion.
The state or the central authority can be crucial but leadership also counts. In the case of the Benue Valley, political leadership seems to be missing. The space is so blank, whether you are talking of voices suing for calm or clarifying things to the people or opening contacts with other players.
The herdsmen and whatever they represent has had a programme of weakening the Benue Valley. Major parts of the area have been engulfed in conflicts, from Plateau, Southern Bauchi, Southern Kaduna to Benue. You can also see the intensity in Taraba State. It is only in Kogi and Kwara we have not seen that much. So, it is a systematic programme. It is doubtful if the consciousness of this agenda has dawned on the leaders you are talking about. Secondly, the Benue Valley is particularly disadvantaged. The analysis from the most credible agencies and sources available shows very clearly that climate change is affecting every part of the country and people and different trade groups have to adjust. In that movement, the most promising destination from all angles is the Benue Valley. Now, there is more livestock south of the Niger than anywhere else especially that the tse-tse fly threat is been removed. So, insecurity in the Benue Valley will continue to worsen and the local communities might have to innovate. There are communities in Plateau that have followed that path and they are secure.
I have come to understand that there is a national cohort that will come together to calm nerves and build bridges in moments of breakdown of communication among groups and identities as appears to be happening now.
Who are those?
General Gowon, Obasanjo, TY Danjuma, IBB, Abdulsalami, Buhari and Aliyu Gusau. That is the last 7 of the Mohicans, as they are called.
That is if they themselves are at peace
The assumption is that notwithstanding their inter-personal quarrels, they are bonded, they constitute a cohort when the nation is not at peace
But these people are embodiment of crises. What is Buhari trying to do? What he is doing is to avenge what he thinks politicians did to him, what his fellow military men did to him and so on. So, pursuit of enemies is a major issue for him. Is that not the same thing Obasanjo did? Everything Abacha did was evil in the eyes of Obasanjo. So, that is their culture and that culture means or makes the presence of military people in politics problematic. There was an argument that they should be participants in politics. Now, they are part of it but they have become the problem. They believe in conquest of the other person because that is their training and they have brought that training along to politics. What I see ahead is a replay of 1983/5 – everyone will be branded a thief. Only the Messiah is in town. Right now and in a very creative country such as Nigeria, there is no economic team. Rather, everyone must be chased around here and there in the name of anti-corruption war.
Are you then looking forward to divine intervention to dissipate the conflicts and bring peace?
God is very busy with other problems and other people. Why should God be wasting extra time on Nigeria when a people do not want to solve problems? There is no other divine intervention more than the brain God has given each and every one of us to define and solve problems. After that, you still wait on God to spend extra time on Nigeria? Nigeria that is already over blessed?
Just one last question and it is on Africa, now the only sick continent of the world, having been left behind by Asia and Latin America. Do you see the continent already extricating itself from that humiliating status?
Some African economies are doing very well but for Africa to do well, we have to be democratic, we have to create conditions that allow the economy to grow. Look at Rwanda, the economy is growing. Ghana is, at least, stable. Botswana is doing well. But, look at Zimbabwe where someone at 92 has been endorsed for the next round. The African problem is political and it is leadership. They believe they are kings, that God put them there for life. So, they do not think of planning transition. Those that tend to be stable are those with good governance record. I think Africa will continue to grow but that is tied to stability. Instability makes that impossible, in particular the type of instability that comes from conflicts tied to exclusion.