Ibrahim Coomasie, former Inspector-General of Police and presently, chairman of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) discloses why the North moved massively for President Muhammadu Buhari and against former President Goodluck Jonathan. A former classmate of PMB, he reveals why it would not be business as usual with Buhari. He spoke with Kunle Somorin, catherine Agbo and Muazu Elazeh.
Let’s hear your achievements since you assumed the headship of Arewa Consultative Forum.
Well, immediately we were inaugurated by General Yakubu Gowon, who is the chairman of the joint state council of the ACF, we went for the national conference. In fact, personally, I didn’t want to go to the conference because I was a member of the 2005 delegate conference and the recommendations we made did not see the light of the day and in another forum, including ACF, we had said it was wrong to hold the conference at that time. This is in addition to our reservations as to whether or not whatever recommendations to be made would be implemented. All the same, as the chairman of the ACF, I had to go and we went. You know the ACF is for the Northern Nigeria.
After the handing over of power to Obasanjo, there were hues and cry, heaps of allegations against the North; any problem found in Nigeria was associated with the North. That was the basis of forming the ACF; we met in Kaduna and resolved that since there were so much attacks on the North, we had to come together so that we could speak with one voice. That is why we established the Arewa Consultative Forum. It is on this that we went to the conference and I was made the chairman for the Northern delegates. It was originally co-chaired, myself and Jerry Gana, but Gana was a little bit reluctant so we dropped him and took Jerry Useni. Eventually, I was the chair. As you know, we also went with our serious agenda because the entire North did not prepare like they did in the South, where other states had conferences and seminars to prepare themselves for the conference. However, we went and the ACF organised a retreat for all Northern delegates and we invited people to lecture us on some topical issues of resource control, derivation and so on. This enlightened us more and we went, not proactively but reactively and eventually, we thought we succeeded because we were not defeated. We went, we saw and even though we didn’t conquer, we were not defeated.
With the emergence of President Buhari, do you think the North has achieved one of its major agenda?
Buhari became so famous during the electioneering and on the political scene generally. If you recall, the arrangement when it was decided that power should go to the South was that after eight years, it would come back to the North but that was disrupted somehow by nature when the late president Umaru Musa Yar’Adua died and Jonathan continued, isn’t it? Some people believed that with the completion of his first tenure, Jonathan should have stepped aside and allowed another Northerner to come and complete the term. This was not to be. To make matters worse, the last six years of Jonathan’s administration ignored two important issues which were provided for in the constitution. The purpose of government is to provide security and welfare of the people. Jonathan ignored this and for six years, our people were being killed in the North-East of the country, property were being destroyed, children were killed, schools destroyed and even some were kidnapped. So, one of the things we said was that enough is enough. The ACF under our leadership told the Northern governors that the carnage and devastation in the North was enough and that something must be done about it. Later on, we wrote the president an open letter which was published in the media, highlighting all the atrocities that had been happening in the North. We talked about the attacks on the North and the attacks on personalities, including the incumbent president and some clergymen like Sheikh Dahiru Bauchi, who was attacked in Kaduna. There was no reply from the Presidency. This thing spread to even the North-Central and North-West and because of that, the ACF spearheaded the leadership of other NGOs in the North to say enough is enough. What we needed then was to bring back the arrangement of power shift and it meant we would support a Northern candidate. So, when the APC brought up a Northern candidate, we came all out to support him. We decided to try a Northern candidate and when APC brought out Muhammadu Buhari as its candidate, I went on air to rally support for him even though there were few resentments here and there.
So are you suggesting that with the emergence of a Northerner as president, there will be an end to insurgency?
It will be checked effectively. It’s only one month now and you have seen what he has done so far. He has visited the scene of the incident; he has seen the president of Chad Republic; he has seen the president of Niger Republic and he has visited the G-7 Summit. He is doing something to prepare the ground for final onslaught against Boko Haram. In fact, he said he will fight Boko Haram to the last man. Did we hear this type of thing from Jonathan while he was in office? He wasn’t even visiting the place.
During the electioneering and eventual emergence of President Buhari, the South-South said it was a conspiracy by the North against the South-South and South-East. Few days back, the former interim chairman of APC, Bisi Akande said the emergence of Saraki and Dogara is conspiracy by the North against the South- West. The North keeps re-occurring as a decimal in all of these. What is your stand on that?
Well, I have responded to Bisi Akande’s statement. First of all, he is a politician of high repute, he belongs to the Awo Group before Afenifere. But you know the Afenifere is now divided. Akande’s statement is unfortunate. This type of statement should not come from a person of his calibre. It is inciting. But we have replied him. Buhari was elected by Nigerians because they wanted a change and they got it. What the National Assembly does is left to them. It’s the role of the party to see how it can resolve all the problems arising from there. It is an indictment on the leadership of the party. We abhor such statements as made by Akande. It’s very unfortunate. He is somebody I respected before but for him to be making these utterances at a time when Nigeria is chanced to unite is quite unfortunate.
Is the North the problem of Nigeria?
Is it the problem? I’m asking you. No, the North can never be the problem of Nigeria. It is the stabilising factor. If you go back to history, the North is the only unifying factor in this country. In fact, if leadership is in the hands of the North, I assure you there will be good governance. But there is this concern that the North is not as monolithic as it used to be before, yes. But we are coming back to unity because one of our land marks is peace, unity and development. We are coming to be united again. We showed it at the conference and we showed it at the last election.
So what do you make of the concept of Middle Belt?
Well every body has a right to exist in whatever form; but are the Middle Belters saying they are not Northerners?
Talking about the unity of the North, recently, former Kaduna State governor and an elder of the North, Balarabe Musa said Nigerians should not expect anything from President Buhari because he cannot deliver the goods. Is the North in any way worried by such statements coming from its elder?
Every Nigerian has a right to make his comment. This is a constitutionally guaranteed right. Whether the comment is correct or not is another thing.
Even if it is divisive?
He has a right to say it. Is there any law which says he cannot say what he likes? He has been in opposition all along. He was in NEPU and the PRP and even in the PRP, they divided themselves into two. He is a politician and has been in opposition. He was even impeached. He was the first governor to be impeached. So, you should expect these type of remarks from him and I am sure he didn’t even vote for Buhari. His PRP is still alive so you can expect this from people like him.
Are you also not taking this position because of your personal relationship with President Buhari?
No. I am talking objectively as a person who is championing the cause of Northern Nigeria because I am chairman of ACF, otherwise, I am not a politician. Buhari was my classmate and I will support him anywhere because I know his pedigree. He has been tested as head of state and only people who like corruption, greed and stealing will talk bad about him. Balarabe Musa has always been an opposition person so I am not surprised. You can see what we said about Bisi Akande. We said his statement was unfortunate because he is in the same party and in fact, he is a leader of the party.
Ethnicity and religion have continually been used by divisive elements to further polarise this country; regional and ethnic associations keep springing. Do you think this is healthy for our continued existence as a nation?
Well, in spite of everything, we have remained united. At least, we recently celebrated 100 years of our existence as a nation and we are hoping to have another 100 years, better one for that matter, as a nation. All along, the Northern Nigeria has been an example as it remained one inspite of the differences in religion. There are many of our people in Taraba, Adamawa, Plateau, Nasarawa and Niger state who are Christians and they have all along gone under one umbrella and this continued until Obasanjo came. He is the one who divided the North and also increased the hatred between the North and the South. He used CAN.
Is the North the leader, politically in Nigeria?
No, but the North is always in a position to get the leadership of this country because of its numerical strength. So they use religion to attack the North, to divide that cohesion.
Many people still doubt the validity of the North having more population. I remember what the former NPC boss, Festus Odimegwu said…
Many people replied him. They even said this thing started with the colonial masters whom it was claimed, gave the North advantage with population so that it can continue to rule. Have you ever toured the Northern region? You should know whether the North is the most populous. First of all, an average Northerner like me marries at least four wives, what about in Osogbo?
There is this belief that the Northern elite have profited more from government. Do you agree with this?
I have not undertaken a study to ascertain the veracity or otherwise of such a claim but it’s possible. If you talk of cornering contracts, may be yes. This is one of the reasons why people are looking for change.
Do you think Buhari can really fight corruption the way he did years back, given the fact that he also got financial support from some of these people who are perceived as corrupt?
Why not? The question is are they prepared for a change? Should we continue to live like this? Can’t we think of what we can leave for future generations? Should we corner everything to our pockets? If people cannot think like this, there will be difficulty as they won’t cooperate with Buhari. But if they want a change so that Nigeria can develop and compete with other nations globally, then they have to cooperate with him.
But some of them may be concerned by the fact that they assisted him?
If they assisted him, in what way and were they compelled to assist him? Why did they assist him? Why did they bring him to the party when they know the type of person he is? What we are saying is if we need a change for the better, for our people, then we must cooperate with the president. You see I’m confident in the ability of the president to change this country because he said he will fight corruption, reposition the economy and address insecurity.
Don’t you think these people close to him, who are perceived to be corrupt, will fight back when he starts the corruption war because as it is often said, when you fight corruption, it fights back?
You seem to be personalising the whole issue. Him moving against corruption does not mean against individuals. He is moving against corruption, graft and economic sabotage.
There have been concerns about the delay by the president in making appointments, even as he has indicated that he will reduce the size of his government. Amidst all these, there is the issue of federal character and regional balancing. What should be the primary consideration of the president in choosing his team?
He should go for people who have the knowledge of what he wants to achieve, he should look for people who have integrity and are patriotic. They should be people who are thinking of Nigeria and what to do to protect its image.
So what becomes of the federal character provision?
Federal character was introduced by Obasanjo to ensure that there is a balance in appointments; so that no one part of the country monopolises all the appointments. As far as I am concerned, it is good, but without compromising merit and competence. As IGP, I applied federal character in the police. The governmnet said it met a near empty treasury amidst huge debt profile and the states can’t even pay salaries. So, we need to tighen economic policies to find the money to do basic things first, including payment of salaries.
Talking about states not being able to pay salaries, the confab you were a delegate at, recommended the creation of more states…
Some of us, I mean the Northern delegates, did not support that because even some of the existing states are not viable.
As a former security chief, what is your take on the way the government has been prosecuting the war on insurgency in the North-East?
Look, in any insurgency, disturbance of peace or breakdown of law and order, what is first of all required is an authentic intelligence. If you have authentic intelligence, then you will know how to prepare your operation effectively. But if you don’t have authentic intelligence, you will just go and things will boomerang, you won’t get anywhere. I have asked before, that what is the intelligence available to the relevant organisations executing the war? Was it made available, if yes, was authentic, if not why was it provided? Why was the military hurriedly involved? This thing should start with the police because the police is always the first line of defence in internal security but immediately, the military took over. They even came and took over the road blocks until recently when they were directed to stop. What was happening? What was the intelligence available? Who gathered it? You ask and you don’t get answers. And now the killing is back. Every day we hear about killing of people but I don’t know about taking over towns and hoisting their flags.
Talking about internal security, as a former IGP, you have heard about the clamour for state police. Are we, as a nation, ripe for state police?
Ordinarily, if all factors are available, there is nothing wrong in having state police or even local government police and then you have a federal agency responsible for federal offences and the likes, but that has not been the case in this country. With the way they formed the police, we started with the constabulary. First of all, they were not protecting lives and property; they were merely protecting the colonialists, their goods and services. Then later on, they built them up to become the police and then gave them a charter. At that time, they allowed Northern and Southern Nigeria to have their own local government and native authority police force and later, they were merged to form the Nigeria Police Force. During the civil war, they went and recruited more soldiers to fight the war and after the war, the surplus was brought into the police, especially to favour the North. They had to transfer some civil servants into the Nigerian police in higher ranks. So you had a combination of so many people as police.
What kind of reforms do you think are needed to reposition the police?
I have been a member of several police reform committees and we made far reaching recommendations. I remember the last one – we made far reaching recommendations – it went to the government, they issued a white paper and set up an implementation committee under the vice president and they voted some money but it never saw the light of the day. We always recommend but some of these reports never saw the light of the day. There is the problem of implementation and funding. You see, the police is an organisation that has been neglected for some time and the problems are so huge that no government can tackle it during its tenure, but they can prepare a long term programme and make the government, which ever it is, implement its own portion. If we do that, we will get some where. Even our ordinary budgeting, what is due to the police is never released.
There is the issue of the security of tenure for the IGP. We know the last IGP was sacked nine months after he assumed office, four years before the end of his career. Does this give source for concern?
It gives us serious concern. I spoke immediately after he was sacked. Then, I asked what offence he committed and if he did commit an offence, was the due process followed before his sack? Was he investigated and served a query? That is why we said the appointment and removal of the IGP should not be left to the president alone. It should go to the Senate.
There have been reports of infighting among the security agencies in Aso Rock, over who protects the president. What do you think should be the right security architecture of the Aso Rock?
Look, when you talk of internal security, it’s the preserve of the police and the DSS and external aggression is the reserve of the armed forces. If you recall, the civil war in this country was started by police action, to show you the extent of the importance of internal security. So, basically, a the bulk of the protection in the Villa lies with the police and the DSS, but there are also the elements of the military. Everything has a price tag, why? You find policemen asking for lucrative posting, why? The importance is for the government to provide incentives and motivation for any public officer, but its not there. So, essentially, the problem is greed, corruption, favouritism and religious bigotry. We don’t go for merit.