Darius Ishaku is the Governor of Taraba State and a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic People (PDP). In this interview monitored on Channels Television, he speaks on insecurity in the North-East and what the government should do to end it as well as oil exploration in the North, among others issues. ANAYO EZUGWU reports
What would you say is the major challenge being faced by the leadership of the North-East geopolitical zone at the moment?
The problem we are still facing until now is insecurity. We still have problems of insurgency and banditry although they have been greatly reduced. We are happy about it but the pressure must be sustained and the government must sit up to make sure that insurgency and banditry are completely stamped out of the region. For us in the North- East, everything has come to a standstill including agriculture. The ordinary local farmer cannot go to his farm to farm and so prices of food items have gone up and people can hardly buy. I was informed that a bag of corn that used to be N7,000 or maximum N10,000 is now N25,000. It is outrageous for the ordinary man and these are the problems we are facing because people cannot get to the farms. You go to the farm, you risk your life. It is being condemned but the problem is still there. Our labour leader was kidnapped recently in his home and that is the second time he is being kidnapped right in the heart of the city.
Would you say that the situation is better compared to six years ago when you became governor?
Of course, it is much better, especially, in the last six months. At least, the rate of crime is coming down a little but we need to sustain the efforts. I will still request the federal government to ensure that those who are along the border regions and people in villages that are hard to reach are trained on how to use guns to protect themselves. We cannot leave human beings at the whims and caprices of somebody who moves with AK 47. They should train 10 or 20 people in each village along the axis of the boundaries. At least they can protect themselves, so that no one can go there and kidnap 100 people and demand ransom. Something must be done and it should be something that works practically. I believe that some people must be trained even in the villages.
How would that be possible?
The law is made for human beings. The law is not made for the dead. So, you have to be alive to talk about laws. When the security agencies cannot protect you, then something in the alternate must come in. We must be practical in training people and giving them practical induction and let them know what to do. If you leave me, the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I will say should be for two years. One year for compulsory military training and the other years for the social work they are doing now, so that anybody, who completes the NYSC can know how to handle a gun and how to defend him or herself just like it is done in other countries like Israel, Lebanon and other places. You must engage your citizens to be proactive when you cannot provide security. You must allow them to protect themselves because constitution or no constitution, you have to be alive first.
As a governor, have you been able to wrap your head around what exactly or who exactly are the sponsors of Boko Haram and why is it difficult that we are not able to know or identify those who are sponsoring the insurgents?
As a governor, I have asked this question several times to even the security agencies during our meetings. I asked, number one, who are these insurgents? Where did they get their AK 47 from? Why is it that they are invisible that they are not being caught? If these three questions are not answered, then you know of course that there are sponsors. These are brand new AK 47, how will a local man buy such an expensive weapon. It is in the videos all over the place where somebody was confessing that these guns are provided to them and that they are being trained on how to use them. It is the work of the security agencies to get to the root of this. Who are the people, where are they getting these guns from, why is it that they are not able to be caught, If they can go out of this country to capture people, who are declaring for independence, then why are they not able to identify those killing our own citizens here in our country. So, there is more to it than meets the eye.
Do you think that there is a political undertone?
It is absolutely political and even more than political.
Do you see external powers or external influence in trying to cause trouble for Nigerian?
No, these problems are Nigerian grown. It is Nigerian born. If there are external people, who are coming to us here, are we so foolish to destroy ourselves? We have had independence since the 60s and we have grown. If it is education or whatever, we are now educated and we know what to do, and our citizens have elected us into positions to protect them, not to kill them. Who will come from outside to influence you to start killing your citizens? This is a home problem. This is homegrown and it must be resolved internally at home.
What do you suggest should be done to nip this problem in the bud?
If we stand up and put our foot down that this problem should be erased in three months, it will be done. We have very brilliant Nigerian soldiers and we have very brilliant policemen; call them because they have gone to Congo and other places. They have fought wars all over the place and they have won and brought peace to other countries; why not in our own country? We are capable of doing it. Nigerians can solve the security problem; all we need is to give the military the equipment and training and allow them to work. Do the same thing to the police; recruit the proper people and give them proper training, give them target and they will do it. Nigerians are very good both military, police-wise. They are all equal to the task. I’m telling you, if the government wants to do it in three months, it will be a thing of the past.
If you are President Muhammadu Buhari today, what would you do differently?
I will listen to people and carry out wide consultations and I tell you, you will get the solution from where you least expected it. We used to have boys in the security services that are even outside this country and they are getting information on a daily basis of those who are coming into this country and those who are going out. If you track the reports properly, you will know where the funds are coming; whether it is from outside the country. But I tell you these arms are within this country. The people causing this problem are within this country and they need to be tracked.
When you say that the people who are causing this problem are in the country, are they politicians?
Well, all the time you narrow it to politicians, is it only the politicians that are living in Nigeria? We have so many people not only politicians. But we the politicians are voted to give solutions to problems and we cannot. We have eight years and six years is gone and in the six years, you used almost three-quarters of the time-solving security problems. Most of the money has gone into paying for the security instead of building schools, hospitals, providing water, agricultural input for the people to eat cheaper and to develop their places. It is not only the politicians that are to be blamed. We are being blamed because we are in control and we are in the seat. But it is not only the politicians.
But who exactly are these people from what you are hearing?
I’m not a security agent but the security people who are in that position should be able to give us this answer. You can’t tell me that all the security we have here don’t know where this is coming from and they don’t know what to do. I absolutely do not agree with that. You see, if today a security man brings me a report that there is going to be an attack in Jalingo, and I turn the report upside down and people are killed, is it the fault of the security man? It is my fault because I didn’t use the report. If you act on the report and act on time, you will nip the problem in the bud.
There is a problem of out-of-school children, which is a major problem in the North-East. Over 10 million out of school children are North- East according to United Nations statistics. What happened to the Almajiri schools built by the Goodluck Jonathan administration, are they still functional?
No, they are not and I don’t think that the concept was good. You can’t just build Almajiri schools in one section of the country. The concept and the model were wrong. But what they are doing now seems to be working. We have tried the new system, I think it is the World Bank or the UNDP that is bringing it and it seems to be working. We have tried it for like one and a half years and it is working very well in Taraba State and we have gotten a lot of people out of the streets already. We are trying to improve on it to make sure that more out-ofschool children go back to school. But you see the displacement of people from their place of abode is also causing problems. The insecurity will still come back to it, so you find out that in some of the IDP camps, there is completely no school and before you get the government to fix those children in the camps to a school where they can go, it will take more than one year. We have been trying that but it is not very easy. If there is no insecurity, out of school children, we are already managing them, those within the city and those within the confines of the safer areas. For the last one and half years, we have been able to get them to school.