STATE OF THE NATION: We’re losing our youths to bandits — Nnamani


Senator Chimaroke Nnamani, a medical doctor, an administrator, and a politician, served as governor of Enugu State from 1999 to 2007, and as Enugu East senator on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP from 2007 to 2011.

He was re- elected as a senator in 2019 and is currently the chairman, Senate Committee on Cooperation & Integration in Africa/ NEPAD. In this exclusive interview with Vanguard, Senator Nnamani spoke on the state of the nation, the Ninth Senate, insecurity in the country, the South East, State Police, South East 2023 Presidency struggle, need for the convocation of multi-ethnic conference, and youth empowerment commission among others.

Nigeria is facing serious security challenges both in the North and in the South. Where did we actually get it wrong and what is your take on the security situation in your own zone, the South-East?

Before I go to my own zone, let us look at where it all started. We have Boko Haram operating out of the Chad Basin. We have the Islamic State of West African Province, ISWAP, operating in Niger. We also have the Islamic State for the Maghreb. We have also the Islamic State of Greater Sahara and the Alqaeda faction of Maghred. We have the negative Fulani herdsmen because there are Fulani herdsmen who are law-abiding. Then you have the so called banditry which is local terrorism. To call it banditry is to sanitise and colour it. It is local terrorism operating essentially in the North-West.

And then, we have recently the activities in the South-East and then you have the farmers-herders conflicts which are also local terrorism that has gone through North-Central and is now in South-West and South-East and also part of South-South. And then of course kidnapping and the age old problems with South-South, Niger Delta.

The Boko Haram insurgency has been ongoing for quite some time, not much is being talked about it, what we are talking about is the local terrorism, the so called banditry and there are several factors.

One is the border between Niger and Nigeria which is specifically about 1,497kilometres. It is not going to be easy to police such a wide border, the border is completely porous. We have influx of persons from Burkina Faso, Mali and of course of Libya, so you have inflow of weapons from South Sahara and also the Sahel region.

We have wide terrain largely unpoliced with thick forest, very large spaces that are practically ungoverned. We have gap crisis, massive inequality, we have poverty, we have overstretched the security framework, the police and the army. We have areas of problem with the immigration and customs. These are contributory factors to the local terrorism also called banditry.

Then you have failed pacts, failed agreements between this so called bandits and government; agreements that failed because the bandits don’t have common leadership, and the local communities were not involved and the monies given to them acted as incentives, and incentivised them. These problems are critical. They are terrorists are driven by agitation, maybe religious.

What is going on in the South-East needs to be clearly delineated, and studied. One thing that is very clear is that it is anti-Igbo, it is anti-cultural. People sneak at night into police stations and burn them and burn our infrastructures. I condemn it in its entirety.

It boils down to one issue: inclusiveness. In a system where some people believe they are oppressed, there has to be dialogue to address it. If you remember the pedagogy of the oppressed, it has to be dialogue. There has to be some form of dialogue which is discussion, conference, cultural assimilation, understanding, and faith in the system. So this needs to be addressed.

To address the one especially in the South-East, what should be the level of discourse, dialogue, especially by the state governors that they are not doing?

I already told you. Even the southern governors’ meeting on Tuesday, when they came out with their communiqué, they talked about convocation of conference of nationalities. We need to sit down and talk.

We have gap crisis, massive inequality, economic inequality, gender inequality, and regional inequality.

Regional inequality is the disparity in data in terms of poverty between the extreme North and the extreme South, where you have poverty running from 81 per cent down to about 10 to 15 per cent.

Gender inequality is the gender gap indices, where Nigeria is 128 out of 153 countries in terms of gender gap indices. Gender gap indices look at quality of life, things like health affordability, educational attainment and economic empowerment.

Traditionally, the African system is being built to go against the woman. What do they do? Mostly unskilled casual labour, there are practices where they can’t even own lands. So you have areas where 75 per cent of poor women are illiterates, you even have states in this country where there is 94 per cent illiteracy rate in women while 28 per cent of the richest men are illiterate, and 75 per cent of the poorest men are not educated.

You find out that the factors of production and labour are skewed against the woman and we are going to have gender empowerment and gender equality.

In terms of economic inequality, we already talked about the poverty index and we talked about absolute poverty. The situation with Nigeria absolute poverty is that it has nothing to do with economic growth. So even if the economy is doing well, the people who are absolutely poor still stay in that condition; it doesn’t affect them.

If you look at Nigeria in terms of GDP, Nigeria economic growth rate was about 7 per cent from the year 2000 up, yet the poverty rate increased from about 69 million people poor in 2004 to about 102million people in 2010.

You can see that while the country was growing, it did not affect rate of absolute poverty. Within the same period we also had over 44 per cent increase in millionaires, because there is a synergy, and partnership between those who are politically powerful and those who are economically powerful. Synergy in the sense that powerful policy makers and powerful rich people form a synergy, they form a partnership, so they skew policy in their favour, policies that will lead to opportunities and economic wealth.

So you have things like import waivers, tax relief even in terms of policy. Agriculture employs about 50 per cent of the poor people and nobody talks about agriculture, everybody talks about the oil sector where massive money is voted for refinery repairs and all that stuff. So the policy is skewed in favour of the rich and that is the problem with economic inequality.

In Nigeria if you look at budgetary allocation, education is about 6.5 per cent, health is about 3.5 per cent, social service is about 6 per cent. Compare that to a country like Ghana where education is about 18 per cent, and health is about 13 per cent.

So, Nigeria’s economic inequality is fostered by interest of the politically powerful and the politically rich with elite capture of the state.

Then we talk about failed expectation framework which is also part of the frustration, and agitation. Our in constitution, Section 14, 2b says that the primary role of government is the welfare and security of the people.

In terms of social contract, those who vote for you expect something in return for their vote, the so called dividends of democracy. So, when people invest in democracy, in the process, they expect returns. There is a failure of that social contract, that is failed expectation framework.

You remember the Arab uprising? The world is digital. Given the effect of social media, it is a global world. So as you have agitations all over the world, within the country there is youth restiveness and agitations coupled with lack of inclusion, poverty, and greater sensitization due to failed expectation framework.

Do you subscribe to amnesty for repentant armed bandits and Boko Haram insurgents as a way forward which some people are advocating for?

What I subscribe to is a plan that will attack poverty holistically and aggressively. What I subscribe to is a plan where it would be unattractive for the youths to become bandits.

We talked about failed expectation framework, we talked about social contract, there is an allegiance between the people and those who govern them, there is loyalty to the state.

So if loyalty to the state is effective, there won’t be loyalty to the bandit leader. There is competition between the government and the terrorist leader for the youths that are between 12 and 18. Does he become a bandit and become loyal to a bandit leader or does he remain a responsible citizen and become loyal to the government?

So government has to compete in order to maintain that loyalty and how do you maintain that loyalty? Adult literary education for those who fell through the cracks, some level of welfare, you can give them money for coming to the adult literacy class, you can give them money for becoming good citizens, you attack unemployment; unemployment rate is between 12 and 21 per cent and underemployment is even worse.

Attack unemployment, provide critical infrastructure, provide innovative technology, provide agrarian loans, provide cottage industry, provide some level of entrepreneurship, then you won’t have bandits in the first place and there won’t be any need for amnesty.

There is a fight for the soul of the youth, does the youth become a bandit, does the youth become a bad citizen or does the youth remain a good citizen and stay loyal to the government? Government has to fulfil its contract.

Select areas where bandits operate, have a registry of the youths, provide welfare for them, provide adult literacy classes for those who fell through the cracks, provide jobs, provide small cottage industry, provide agrarian loans, use the power of government and the wealth of government to keep them rather than allow them to get to the bandits.

Provide multi conference, where the multi-ethnic nationalities will get together and trash out the problems. The earlier you do it the better. That will save you the efforts of talking about amnesty and ransom.

Ahead for 2023 there are calls for South-East to produce the President, what is your take on this?

All regions in Nigeria have the wherewithal to produce the president including the South-East. But you must also remember that the Presidency is overrated, it is not about Presidency.

As an Igbo, I know in my heart that the fight for effective representation, the fight to derive the benefits, the largesse of the Nigerian state does not rest with the Presidency.

As an Igbo, one of the nationalities that make up the multi-ethnic state of Nigeria, our future, our survival does not rest on an eight- year presidency, it rests somewhere else. What will stamp Igbo solidly on the history of this nation is not on an eight – year presidency, it is somewhere else, I won’t tell you, you can go and find out. It has nothing to do with the presidency, the presidency is overrated.

In a society where there is elitist’s dysfunction, the presidency is personal to who holds the job. After all, all the regions have held the presidency for over 40 years, what is the poverty rate, what is the school enrolment rate, what is the infant mortality rate, what is the maternal mortality rate, what is the gender gap indices? Even ordinary things like open defecation, what is the rate? So it has nothing to do with the presidency, it is personal, it depends on who holds the job.

In summary, in the context of the politics of Nigeria, the Igbo, the South-East deserves the presidency and should be given an opportunity.

The National Assembly is in another round of constitution review, outside what you have said, what do you think should be on the top burner?

What should be on the top burner in Nigeria is the convocation of a conference of multi-ethnic nationalities that make up Nigeria on basis of equality.

The resolutions derived from there will now be tabled to the National Assembly to legislate and put into law as a constitution with the concurrence of the two -third of the states of the country.

As an elder statesman, what is your message to Nigerians now?

My message to Nigeria is that these are tough times, these are make or break time for the nation state. We have to bury our differences and put Nigeria first and the only way we can do that is to provide for an enabling environment where every child from every ethnic group will have equal opportunity to fulfil their greatest potential, we need to talk and we need to talk urgently. Things are certainly falling apart and the centre is certainly not holding.

What is your take on the state of the nation?

To clearly discuss and understand the state of the nation, there are six thematic areas we need to look at: Poverty, ignorance, and disease; national transformation; youth restiveness; critical infrastructure, gap crisis; and failed expectations framework

I want you to break them down. Let’s start with youth restiveness. If you look at demographic data, Nigeria population was about 38 million in 1958, presently we are about 200 million. Population dynamic study shows that by 2030, we expect to be 236 million and by 2050, 410 million. At that time we will be the third most populous country, right now we are the seventh most populous country.

What you have because of improvement of social services, health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene, is an expansion of working age population that is between age 15 and 65 and you have a contraction of the dependent population that is below 15 and over 65.

This demographic expansion is going to have two outcomes; demographic expansion also called youth bored, if it is managed appropriately, you are going to have demographic dividends, if it is managed inappropriately, you have a demographic bomb.

If you provide an enabling environment to harness the economic potentials and effects of this demographic expansion, then it will be well for the country, then you will have demographic dividends.

What are the factors?

If you provide for education, health, skill acquisition, employment, factors of labour and production, land, rails, innovation technology, food, infrastructure, you can harness this population expansion and have demographic dividends.

However because of the problems we have in our country, this demographic expansion is not being channelled positively, so we are nearing the state of a demographic bomb which leads to vulnerability to indoctrination, youth restiveness, violence, agitation, communal violence, ethnic violence, religious violence, domestic violence and expectedly as we move into election, electoral violence.

So to deal with that, you are going to provide for maternal care, even up to pre-conceptual counselling, provide health services to infants, you follow the child to nursery, to pre-care, follow the child to kindergarten, providing immunization and paediatric services.

You now follow that child from primary one to primary six, providing free qualitative, compulsory primary education, tied with health services, tied with school feeding. When we talk about school feeding, it is more than a meal in the sense that couple with that, you are going to have health services where you check for growth, for weight, dentition, look at the eyes, look at hearing; you follow that child to primary six, that child is now heading to age 12.

For the mother, in terms of poverty alleviation, the mother can help provide the material for food and other resources.

Then at 12, you now follow that child into secondary school, provide free, qualitative education, continued with health surveillance. That child is going to enter into university, is going to enter technological school or straight into labour because of skill acquisition.

The child that goes through University or goes through technical college, goes for youth service, that is where you now have an aggressive scheme for youth empowerment.

After University, that child is going for youth service, there will be need to increase the youth services to two to three years; two years compulsory with an optional third year. At the end of that optional third year, you are going to provide skill acquisition, entrepreneurial loan, agrarian loan to that young man before he now enters into the society.

Then you also have what I call a Youth Empowerment Commission, just as you have the Federal Character Commission because what is happening now is that by the time some of them are getting to entering level positions, they are in their 30s, so some people may not even employ them, they are looking at those in their 20s.

So if you have a youth empowerment commission, before you advertise for jobs, you are going to pass it through the commission and they will make provision for allocation for the youths.

When I talked about the state of the nation and talked about the six perimeters, what is the goal? The goal is to eradicate poverty, reduce hunger, provide for gender empowerment and equality, reduce the gender gap indices, provide for free qualitative primary education, decrease infant mortality, improve maternal health, decrease HIV, malaria and other communicable diseases, provide for a sustainable environment and provide for global partnership and then of course housing and other areas.

Let’s talk about poverty. Africa, the so called third world has gone through a lot of travails over the years; slave trade, colonialism, military adventurism, debt enslavement, HIV, Ebola, all sorts of diseases and now dealing with massive poverty.

Poverty could be absolute or relative, so essentially you can define poverty as failure to have an income that will meet your basic needs: food, water, shelter, education and health; that is absolute poverty. Then relative poverty could be where your income is 50 per cent less than the average household income for the index community.

Let’s look at Nigeria today, poverty rate on the average is about 50 per cent, which means about 86.9million people, so if you go all the way from the North, you can have high poverty rate of up to 81 per cent than to Lagos area where you can have up to 10 to 15 per cent.

In between, the North-Wast 70 per cent, coming down to North-Central 60 , North-East 40 per cent, South-West 30 per cent, down to Lagos 10 percent and then of course South-East 20 per cent. That is the poverty rate in terms of statistics.

When you also talk about this poverty rate, of course in actual terms talking about school enrolment where you have about 14-16million children on the streets with about 12million in northern Nigeria alone, you are talking about problem with infant mortality, maternal mortality. So you have massive poverty, abandonment of hope.

On convocation of multi-ethnic nationalities conference

Then we go to national transformation which will include total overhaul of the country that has to result to an urgent need for the convocation of a conference of ethnic nationalities.

In that conference of ethnic nationalities, we will now decide how do we apportion offices, how do we apportion roles, what method of governance do we have? That is what they call restructuring, fiscal federalism. how do we share our resources, how do we share and apportion wealth, How do we tax ourselves that will ensure fiscal federalism? How do we police ourselves, is it state police, is it federal police, is it community police?

That conference of ethnic nationalities will now delineate modalities for a new Nigeria.

How would this conference that you are calling for be different from the one of 2014 and how will choose the delegates?

We are talking democracy now. Let the government set up a Secretariat, let that Secretariat call for representation, Tiv send us four people, Hausa-Fulani send us four people, Urhobo send us four people, Igbo send us four people, all the ethnic groups send us four people and we will come to the table.

And we will now put everything on the table, the physical structure, the fiscal structure, how do we govern ourselves, then we discuss, it needs to be done as soon as possible. They will come up with a robust structure, if they say we agree on where we are, we remain and that package will now be sent to the National Assembly to be legislated on and converted into law, with concurrence by two third of the state Houses of Assembly.



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