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Lawmakers ‘ll oppose immunity for Senate President, Speaker — Rep Kwewum

By Tordue Salem

 

Your constituency is called Donga/Ussa/Takum special development areas federal constituency. What is the special area all about?

In 1997, Ussa Local Government Area was created out of Takum Local Government Area. A few months after the creation of Ussa, the military government came up with a circular and removed three communities from Takum and added them to Ussa; removed two communities from Ussa and added them to Takum. The net result of that was that people from Kashimbila, and Bete part of Ussa got into Takum. And people who border Takum like Genoa, whose land stretches up to the hospital, are not part of Takum.

 

Meanwhile, you have people 57 kilometres away like Kashimbila who are part of Takum. So, the people protested that they will not be part of Ussa LG. From 1999 to 2007, when Danbaba Suntai became governor, the people of this area did not vote in any election. So, Yangtu Special Development Area was a creation of late Governor Danbaba Suntai to give the people a sense of belonging.

On bill seeking to grant immunity to presiding officers of the parliament

 

I am sure that the bill will not see the light of day. Even if it comes out of the committee, it will not scale through the National Assembly not to talk of 24 state houses of assembly. And there is nowhere in the world where presiding officers of the parliament have immunity.

The immunity, which we have is unqualified, and it covers what we say in the chambers and what we say in the course of our job as legislators.

 

Unfortunately, what we tried to do sometimes in the National Assembly is to rival the executive. But we seem to be going about it the wrong way. The legislature arose to principally check the role of the executive or monarchy in declaring war, taxes, etc. The legislature should be able to debate when to go to war, when and how to impose taxes, etc.

Even in advanced democracies, there is no immunity for presiding officers-in the UK, US and so on. Members of Parliament in UK are being prosecuted. A Nigerian in the UK Parliament lost his seat because he beat traffic and lied about it. So, I do not think that is necessary.

 

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We just want to compete with the executive because the president and governors are enjoying immunity, so the senate president, speaker also should have immunity. But does the Chief Justice of Nigeria have immunity? He does not have. If you give presiding officers immunity today, next time you would want to extend it to members of the legislature.

I think there are other more important constitutional amendments that we should pay attention to. For example, the local government autonomy. Although, National Assembly has done well in this aspect the state assemblies have always kicked against it. And one of the major causes of the insecurity we are experiencing today is the absence of autonomy at the local government level.

 

The local governments are the first respondents to crisis but there are very many local governments that have been overtaken by weeds across the country because governors have taken over their monies. These are issues we should be interested in.

Do you foresee any conflict between the National Assembly and the presidency over the refusal of President Buhari to sack the service chiefs as demanded by both chambers?

No, I don’t see any conflict. The House has the right to make its resolutions and advise the president. But the resolutions of the House are not binding on the president. Even in lawmaking, the president has the power to veto any law, which is passed by the parliament; except, where the parliament musters the courage and power to override the president. Those are role conflicts that necessary exist in situations like this.

 

The president has the right to say yes or no. The National Assembly also has a right to make its resolutions. But my opinion is that coming to discuss security matters the way we are doing every day and trying to show how ineffective the security operators are is not in the interest of the nation. There are some discussions that should not be in the public domain every other day because there are ripple effects.

For example, you can generate ill feelings in the military and there will be disaffection within the ranks of officers and men. Two, you may end up alienating the military instead of giving them the support they need.

 

In summary, I think the major problem that we have as far as Boko Haram and Fulani herdsmen are concerned are political.

National Assembly legislators have been bashed severally for purchasing official cars. This Assembly is also facing the same criticism. How do we put an end to this vicious circle?

There is nothing that the National Assembly can do because on the aggregate, the National Assembly has 469 people gathered in one place. So, anything that you do here, people will complain. How about ministries, all ministers, commissioners, local government chairmen get cars, special advisers get cars, directors get cars; judicial officers get cars. If you put all these cars together, they are far higher than what the National Assembly has. But because we are all elected and gathered in one place, it has become an issue.

 

On seeming resurgence of Boko Haram attacks after claims by the government that the sect has been degraded and technically defeated

I don’t know whether we should be saying its renewed attacks across the country or maybe we are really not aware of what is going on compared to what we use to know some years back. But let’s take the issues from two perspectives: first of all, the political perspective. When the present government came in 2015, after they defeated Goodluck Jonathan, it wanted to give the impression that it was better than the ousted Jonathan’s administration, therefore it needed to win those political points. So, it had to play the political points from the reality.

 

However, the reality of the situation as we know is that Boko Haram has remained very strong. There is need to remove politics from the reality. The reality on ground is that the military had made some efforts to perform its functions; but there are certain factors that need to be put in place for us to understand what is happening.

First of all, I want you to understand that throughout the three and half years I was chairman of the House committee on army, one thing we noticed and kept hammering on was that the military had over the years been very poorly funded and was under staffed. It did not have enough equipment. The propaganda before the Jonathan’s government was voted out was that soldiers were not being paid and they did not have arms, etc.

 

But before the government of Jonathan left, he had brought in mercenaries who had effectively chased away Boko Haram from many locations. This happened at the twilight of that administration and the mercenaries worked for some time up till the end of 2015 before their contract was revoked.

Another thing you have to understand is that when you buy arms, they are not kept on the shelf like beverages where you just go and pay and pick them.

 

You have to place order for arms and it may take years before they will be delivered. I want you also to note that when Jonathan was president and we had Gen. Minimah and Ihejirika as chief of defence staff and chief army staff, there was this propaganda by very important personalities in the North – remember the Borno Elders Forum and even the current president, who had said that anybody who was killing Boko Haram was committing some kind of injustice; that Boko Haram should be treated as the Niger Delta militants.

 

So, this public outcry against the activities of the military at that time inhibited a lot of things that would have been done to suppress these insurgents. Each time the military moved, we heard people from the political circles shouting, they are killing our children to the extent that both Minimah and Ihejirika were reported to the International Criminal Court, ICC.

I am saying this because I want you to understand how what is happening now is rooted in the past. I remember when I took my committee to the House of Commons in the UK, and one of the things that came up was that the Nigerian army was not respecting the rights of Boko Haram militants to the extent that arms embargo was placed on Nigeria.

 

Up till now, some of those embargoes have not been lifted. So, the government of Jonathan could not get the arms it required to fight. When President Jonathan wanted to by pass that and buy arms from the black market, the US blocked the purchase of the arms through the use of money transfer that it was not legal.

He then wanted to use cash to buy, the same people from Nigeria reported the government and the aircraft and the cash were seized in South Africa. Fortunately or unfortunately, these people are in power today. Now, we have a situation whereby the military and the army are being short of ammunitions.

 

Secondly, in terms of personnel, Nigeria has the lowest ratio of men in uniform to the population. I remember I sponsored a motion in the last Assembly and we carried out some research and found out that as of 2016, the ratio of soldiers to landmass in the North-East was one soldier to five kilometres. This is the reason in many locations you see them post five or 10 soldiers only because we do not have the men. We have not invested in having the men. This is just one aspect of the story.

 

The second part of the story to my mind is that the politics of the government of the day, which gave the people the impression that it was going to suppress Boko Haram within a very short time. And I remember as chairman of the committee on army, I had to intervene several times to argue that there is no example of anywhere in contemporary history that insurgency of this kind is suppressed in 20 or 30 years.

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Today, we have a situation whereby even children’s minds have been polluted against people of other religions. Some of these children are as young as 6, 10, 12 years; remember the 10-year old boy that triggered the gun to kill the CAN chairman of Michika? Now, how do you stop insurgency that is based on ideology of religion?

That is the mind of young people from that early age? This is in the minds of young people and you cannot go and tell soldiers to go and kill those young people. It is not possible. And it is very difficult and almost impossible to differentiate between a 10 year old insurgent and another 10 year that is not an insurgent.

 

By the time you realise he is an insurgent, he has lifted the gun and killed you, or he blows up the bomb. So, in trying to politicise this matter, the government of the day ignored the most important thing that it ought to have done to solve this problem, which was what Jonathan had set out to do.

One, to change the minds of these young people who had been radicalised by pursuing the Almajirai educational system. Now, you have young people who have been radicalised into radical Islamic system. So, how do you expect the soldiers to fight these people without stopping the factory that is producing these radical elements? This is the situation we have found ourselves and it is very unfortunate that we are going to live with this for a while.

 

There have been stories of repentant Boko Haram members being reintegrated in the society. Some even say they are recruited into the army. What is your opinion?

Actually, I have a motion that I am going to take to the speaker because we need to discuss that programme. In other climes, they have what is called disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation (DDR), which is known internationally, but it is only undertaken when insurgency has been brought to an end.

 

This is when the insurgents are made to sign an agreement that they have renounced their struggle and will no longer fight again. So, what we are experiencing here is strange and it is unfortunately being undertaken by the military and not the civilian authorities. But I don’t have details about the programme and I do not understand it and that is why I am coming with a motion so that we can discuss it.

When the leaders of insurgent groups have signed an agreement to stop the fight then you introduce this. But in this case, the insurgents have not renounced their radicalism. We have not had an agreement signed with them.

 

A former governor of Yobe state and now a senator have sponsored a bill seeking to establish a commission for the rehabilitation of repentant insurgents. What’s your take on this?

What we need to know about bills is that an individual member’s bill is the personal opinion of the lawmaker.  So, this controversial bill is also the personal opinion of the former governor of Yobe State. The fact of the matter is that, I don’t understand what that bill seeks to achieve. In the security architecture, I don’t know where it fits. You can see that there is public outcry against it.

 

But what do you think should be done to those who have repented?

If you continue creating commissions, tomorrow, you will have to establish a commission for repentant herdsmen or bandits or kidnappers and armed robbers. A criminal activity is a criminal activity. If an armed robber comes to you and say, I was the one that killed a particular person but I have repented today, would you say they should create a commission for his rehabilitation?

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