Elder Statesman, Tanko Yakasai, has said that the Southwest security network, code-named, ‘Operation Amotekun’, is a private army in the making. The founding member of Arewa Consultative Forum, in this interview with VINCENT KALU, urged the Yoruba to drop the security outfit and embrace the federal government’s initiative on national security.
He warned that the idea is capable of encouraging the secession agenda of some elements in the Southwest, Southeast and South- South geo-political areas of the country. He equally warned Amotekun operatives and those promoting them not to dare the nation’s security forces
Fifty years after the civil war, are you satisfied with the level of unity that has been achieved so far?
No, exactly, no. I believe we have made progress, but we are not there yet.
Then, how do we get there?
If the government is not performing; not this government alone, but all the governments, it becomes a serious problem. The money that is supposed to be used for development is siphoned, so very little is left for actual development. So, people are not seeing anything different. Secondly, people are not engaged, as they are suffering from unemployment. We neglected power sector that would help us industrialise thereby creating job opportunities. We are not even doing agriculture that can easily mobilise millions of Nigerians through employment and job creation simultaneously.
If everybody is busy, we would not be debating about trivial issues, and nobody will be thinking of activities that would be secession in nature, but you have them now, particularly, if you look at the IPOB, which is an attempt to revive secession in the Southeast, I know they cannot succeed, but we shouldn’t have that at all in our country.
There are some indications even in the Southwest and in the South-South, although promoters of those ideas are not the movers and shakers; they can’t win local government elections either as councillor or as chairman, talk less of as a member of state Assembly or National Assembly, or as governor or president.
However, anybody can start trouble, it doesn’t require a very important person or the man with a majority support to start trouble, that is why I said there are still manifestations of disunity in the country.
Like you said, there are still manifestations of disunity, some people also argue that the events that led to the civil war are still building up, how do we avert this?
The events are building up. In my observation, in this country, people see danger but they are afraid to speak out for one reason or the other, and they would not speak out until it is too late for anybody to intervene; I don’t see people rising up to their responsibility in this matter.
The media is not helping matters; a nonentity would be turned to a very important person by the media, when in actual sense, he is a paper tiger. Media overblows trivial issues, which gives the wrong impression in the country.
Everybody is in fear about this trend of disunity of this country, but those talking about it are the insignificant people in the society. Like I said, anybody can start trouble and nobody can know how to quell it; but the media has to be alive to its responsibility of promoting national unity in averting disaster in the country.
Still talking about the events that led to the civil war, some people insist that a section of the country as the rider and the others the horse. What do you say to this?
I know what you are talking about, it is unfortunate, and I’m having some concerns about that. People are talking about the ways the present government goes about making appointments in the country, and many people expressed concern.
I’m a Northerner, full-blooded Northerner – my parents; my grandparents were from the North. There are so many thousands and millions of Northerners who are also committed to national unity. There is an Hausa proverb, I don’t know its equivalent in English – one piece of beans can spoil entire pot of beans, I just translate literally; if the government or the presidency has vacancies for ten people and for whatever reason he filled nine with Hausa – Fulani Muslim Northerners and gave one to the entire Southern Nigeria, including Christian Northerners, there is no doubt that people would not be seeing things going the wrong way, I’m seeing it also.
But you should also see the other positive side. For instance, you have Nigerians, who are Northerners going about their business in the South, some trading, some working as night watchmen, some even going begging, yet they are free, nobody is disturbing them; nobody is killing them, and also you find a lot of Southerners going about their business across the entire country. Take the instance of the magnitude of the Igbo man that goes about his business all over without let or hindrance over the country. These are the important aspects that people tend to ignore. Life is about survival, if people are free to go all over the country in search of means of livelihood unmolested, it is very good side and we have had it before. We had people going from the south to the north and from north to the south, but not to the magnitude they are doing it now. It should be noted and taken into consideration.
What is you position on the Southwest security network, Amotekun?
There are security challenges all over the country; it is not a matter that concerns the Southwest alone. It is in the Southeast, South-South, North Central, Northwest and Northeast, all over, killings, kidnappings, armed robberies, etc. These are not limited to a particular area, they are all over the place, nobody would doubt or dispute this.
The way the Southwest is approaching the issue is wrong; many times a wrong approach can kill a very good project. The wrong approach was to give it ethnic dimension.
Southwest has something positive and something negative. Something positive in the sense that they have no problem in understanding because all of them are one people; they speak the same language, they are either Muslim or Christian, they know how to relate with one another without discrimination. This is not the case with all the other geo-political zones. No geo-political zone is like that, yes, I know, people would say southeast, yes, obviously, they are Igbo, they are almost the same like Southeast.
This Amotekun is a private army in the making. A country like Nigeria that has experienced secessionist movement, and an attempt at secession, there is no doubt that so many lives of people of Nigeria from both sides were lost in that process, then Nigerians will be jittery; any patriotic Nigerian will begin to open his eyes wider seeing this kind of thing happening.
Since the problem is nationwide, a nationwide approach should make everybody happy.
The president has set up a committee with the Inspector General of Police to look into the problem of insecurity in the country holistically and give a recommendation that would enable the federal government on its own or maybe either in collaboration with state or local government to deal with the issue based on the recommendation that it considers appropriate.
I will prefer that approach, but I don’t accept the approach by the Southwest for simple reason that if you allow the Southwest to set up a semi-military outfit, particularly a security outfit that allow its personnel to carry guns, it doesn’t matter whether you call it Dane guns; gun is gun and nobody can assure that these Dane guns will not one day turn into proper or sophisticated guns, and you are not sure that if you give somebody a Dane gun, he will not one day go somewhere and drop it and pick a proper gun.
To that extent, I think the approach from the Southwest was wrong; it didn’t take into consideration the sensitivity of the government and people of Nigeria.
So, you are in support of the position by the federal government?
I’m in support of the initiative by the federal government. Southwest, Southeast, South-South, Northwest, Northeast and North Central should await the outcome of that exercise and get themselves keyed into it so that there will be synergy in tackling the problem of insecurity in Nigeria. It is a very big issue that can be addressed through synergy.
That Amotekun can be ordinary word in Yoruba, but it can have so many meanings; why can’t they adopt a term that can be understood by everybody?
It seems only the core Northerners are opposed to Amotekun because the Southeast, the South-South and the Middle Belt are in support of it. Why?
I’m too old in this game to be bamboozled. Somebody cannot go and call a meeting of two or three persons from each zone and say, Southeast, South- South and Middle Belt said this or that. In any case, why would the meeting not include Northeast, Northwest?
Why adopting Gideon Orkar’s solution to Nigerian problem? Those people who are talking, I know them, for the past five years they have been calling meetings. This Middle Belt is non-constitutional, non-legal and can never be defined administratively, legally or constitutionally. It is slogan by politicians to win votes; it has no basis.
What do they mean by Middle Belt, they mean North Central, which is made up of six states. Out of these six states, only two are predominantly Christians, even one is 70/30 per cent of Christian/Muslim, the other is 90 per cent Christians and 10 per cent Muslims.
You cannot define a state or an area or administrative unit in a country along that line. In a multi cultural society like Nigeria, you cannot define administrative division in terms of ethnicity or religion.
The South-South has jumped into the fray of 2023 presidency. The leaders within the week said, it is the turn of the region to produce the president. What is your take on this?
Jonathan was elected president and he ran for four years. Under normal circumstances, I would have no quarrel with their aspiration; I would have liked also to see them have the presidency for eight years as the Yoruba did, so that the issue of rotation and zoning will be entrenched into our system; the Yoruba have done two terms, so that they can come and complete their two terms, and then it will go to the north and when it returns, the Southeast would have theirs.
I said it in 2015, that if the country elects Buhari, it would take about 20 years for Igbo in Southeast to produce the president, I said it, but nobody took it seriously. South-South is now talking, they should have said that they have started and have done one term and so should be allowed to complete it.
Now, they are talking about it, before then, Southeast has been talking about it. Whichever is the case, I would accept it.
Two things: Somebody can dash you money – Naira, kobo. Nobody will be a millionaire without working for it; nobody will give you power, you need to look for power, work for it; it cannot be gotten just on a platter of gold.
So, the Southeast should also begin to warm into the Nigerian nation to begin to look for people they can win to support their aspiration, so also is South-South. There is only one way of doing it by mobilising support from other parts of the country. As a matter of principle, I don’t quarrel with any of them.
The Southwest seems irrevocably committed to Amotekun, where will this lead?
Will that be a declaration of the intent to fight the authorities? You know that there is abject poverty in this country. People are looking for where to get money. Anybody can gather people to demonstrate on his behalf in Nigeria, so I’m not carried away about the demonstration in support of Amotekun. People can go to disturb peace if they want; people can distribute money to unemployed youths to begin to make trouble all over the country.
Even the political parties don’t have membership today, people who joined them and paid money to be registered as members, so people you see in the streets demonstrating for whatever reason, somebody must have mobilised them. It is not something people do out of their volition. Don’t be surprised if you see people demonstrating for Amotekun, but they should not dare the security forces.