EndSARS protests Vindicates my call for Buhari”s Resignation.
Minority leader in the Senate Senator Eyinanaya Abaribe in this interview with EMMANUEL IRIOGBE posists that the recent EndSARS protests in the country justifies his earlier call for the resignation of President Mihammadu Buhari over leadership failure.
He also talked about his bail condition for IPOB leader, Nnamdi kanu and other issues.
You once made a comment calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to resign. With the recent End SARS protest by our youths do you still hold this view?
That call that I made at that time was a call for the president to be far more sensitive to what Nigeria was going through and you know that call was made couple of years ago and you could see the nonchalance with which complaints about how the country was been handled and its sad that couple of years down the road after, people are seeing that means nothing has essentially changed. The EndSARS protest actually exemplified the frustrations not just of the youth but most Nigerians with the level of governance in the country.
Are our youths still lazy?
Well let me just say that it’s a euphemism that means simply shows exactly the fact that we cannot get anything out of the president, the only way anybody can get anything is a complete change in the manner that the president is running the country.
The original protesters before hoodlums hijacked it, everybody saw how organized the youths were, is this a call for a youth party in Nigeria?
I think that maybe we should get a couple of things right and not mix up things, and, which is, everybody can form a party, even elders, but the essential thing is, we could use our examples, all the people who are in office today whether ministers, senators at a point at which they joined politics were they elders? no they were not. In fact, someone pointed out that to say that governor Amaechi who is now a minister spent 8 years as a speaker and another 8 years as a governor and going to spend another 8 years as a minister so if you combine the 3 its going to be 24 years. Then if you subtract 24 years from 50 something then he was In his early 30s when he was speaker then you go around the country and see speakers who are also in their 30s. when Dimeji Bankole was a speaker he was in his 30s if you check ages of people who are mostly in their 50s they have been in politics since 20 something years ago that tells you that it’s not whether you are a youth or not but what’s is inside you that is most important, the EndSARS protest each and every one of us endorsed it, the way they came the way they brought about it, overcame religion ethnicity and all they asked was good governance and succession at the way people were in government were running our lives and the SARS of the police were epitomizing that impunity, they see you on the street and arrest for not reason and actually they were carrying POS machines asking for money aggressively and killing and maiming people for nothing. So that was just emblematic of the totality of the problems before the sad thing that the hoodlums were introduced by the same government elements in order to break up the protest, because we have videos showing where they were been dropped and told to attack people and the next thing was there was an attempt to ethnicize it and then of course if you are a criminal and an opportunity is given you utilize it which was what the criminals did and then the hoodlums and the snowball effect. So we always would say with regards to the question of party, nobody goes away from politics, someone described it if you are in a dance hall and filled the floor and those tired would leave the floor another come in and every party has its wing, youth, women et al and of course gives opportunities to people and would you say that at the point these people entered politics that they were not youths they were and how did change, what caused it, how did this level of downright impunity enter the system and that you can posit in Chinua Achebes seminal discussion on Nigeria where he says the trouble with Nigeria is simply leadership. The youths can form the party but can they provide this, so I would want that as patriotic Nigerians we won’t want to have simplistic solutions because it would not lead us to anywhere, a good person is a good person no matter the age somebody who is inclined to be criminal minded will also be no, matter the age the real problem I think is lack of punishment to who break the rules in Nigeria and where there is that lack it’s because you are highly connected or you come from a particular area that you say people would say in the favored group and we can have a wide range of discussion in this.
Yes, talking about punishment, what kind of punishment would you want meted out to corrupt leaders?
Well everywhere in the world if found guilty of corruption you will pay the price by going to jail, in china, they execute you in others they do not let you go free. What goes on here is that even those who has their hands covered still come out to say they want to be president of the country which is senseless, it sends a wrong signal, I mean people should hide their faces in shame away from the public and bow their heads in shame and not come out and boldly to tell you that they even want to lord it over you, if you are part of the youth and see someone who has corruptly enriched himself and who has made away with it and comes and still tells you that you are a nobody and goes around with lots of policemen I mean you’ll just think that it doesn’t pay to be honest and law abiding which should be the other way round, the natural law is that it doesn’t pay to be corrupt to be a criminal because you will bear the consequences of it, but when you now turn it upside down that those who gained from the system through corrupt means, that those who break the laws now end up been eulogized and left to enjoy their loot so to say any impressionable person, what would be in his mind would be that it doesn’t pay to be honest that’s just the situation we find ourselves.
You come across like someone that is highly detribalized but every Nigerian is from a tribe region village. Now the Igbos your people feel highly marginalized over the years. After 40 years of the civil war, retired general Ihejirika was the first Igbo man to be made chief or army staff, an Igbo man has not been president of Nigeria do u subscribe to the agitations that the Igbos from the south east precisely, must produce a president come 2023 for Nigeria.
I subscribe to the fact that Nigeria is a flawed nation and because it is that we first have to get it right and the way it is, is to restructure the country in such a way that merely occupying an office won’t give you anything and I can say it very clear, there was something written, those who posted it say it was from Ame Jordan I am not sure whether it was from him, that is a telling thing which says that despite the north having struggled and doing everything to hold onto power, what does that power mean for the north, it has not changed the lives of the average person living in the north, it is still all the indices of poverty, health and others at the bottom within the country. So been president is good for your psychological feeling but we want being president to be an effective thing for you who would be president in other words why would you want to be president and not been able to effect anything that is meaningful for your people, so I subscribe to what Ohaneze n Idigbo said, can we renegotiate thing , the contraption called Nigeria, can we have a conversation among ourselves to know actually who Is a citizen of Nigeria and determine for ourselves how our common wealth will not be shared in this lopsided manner. Can we determine how some people will not be seen as second hand citizens which is most important because yes you are looking for president, which you should be able to give it to the most competent person because that is what will help all of us and so we have a president that can pull us out of this very set of despondency that is in the land today, we need a president who can bring us out of the economic doldrums, we need a president that would look me in the face as a Yoruba man, Hausa man or a Bini man and see man as a Nigerian not as a Christian or as a Muslim. That is where I want to locate the person who would be president and finally the Igbo man has been the person that has made the biggest investment in Nigeria as a Nigerian because there is hardly any place you would go and will not see an Igbo man living with the native and will make all the investments within that place, live with the people, develop wherever he finds himself and so if you are now looking for that president that would be able to glue Nigeria together you should go to the Igbo race. Because they are the only people that are not hung up on the successional basis that we used to look ourselves but I would feel that the first thing to call should be restructuring, if we do not get it right we may not have a country for you to come and be president of. The riots, the looting, the whole thing that has taken place has shown us exactly two things that there can be a new Nigeria devoid of anything which is he EndSARS protest which started and second that there can also be an end of Nigerian which comes from the hoodlums and the criminals acts and so we have to make a choice between the two. Either destruction or rebuilding and I feel that our leaders today have a choice to make but they cannot just run away from that choice.
I believe sincerely that you were in the national assembly in 2014 and that was the year Nigeria gathered under a hall and converged it was termed a national conference under Former President Goodluck Jonathan, It was a confab. Now everything that was resolved there is still very much with us either in the villa or somewhere. All the issues you raised concerning the problems in Nigeria, I believe were treated and sorted, the question is what is stopping Nigeria from executing all those issues that were raised, is it because they did not go through the national assembly?
Well I think it is just ego, there is a tendency in Nigeria that any project started by another leader when the next leader comes he jettisons that and says let him do his own, and so when this government came into being in 2015, they just jettisoned what happened in 2014 because they said it was done by another party whom they supposedly defeated therefore, it didn’t hold any relevance, now the chicken has come home to roost which shows that as at the time the previous president Jonathan was conveying the confab and ensuring all the things were done, he foresaw that there was need for us to go along a certain path, and so those who came after him in arrogance felt there was no part in doing it, so it had nothing to do with the national assembly. I think it was rather late because the elections had now come and then the former president been a gentle man and believing in the good wishes of the people coming after him felt that for someone who was leaving that he should not be the person to start it that he should leave it to the next person to see the good in it and like I said the next government in their arrogance and egosity felt that they had nothing to do with it and now where they are is a bit of “okay I have made a mistake already let me continue sticking to it and that is one of the things that we have to confront with government in nigeria, and everywhere in government. Anything good because it comes from another party you jettison it and then that is how the landscape of Nigeria you have failed projects uncompleted works and so much money go down the drain.
Before you come in, one last question, you stood as surety for Nnamdi kanu and now he is in quote on the run, why are you still a free man because the law says if somebody jumps bail anybody that stands in surety is supposed to stand in for the person?
It is because most people are not following the sequence of events and so there is still the feeling that… the bails for Nnamdi kanu has been revoked by the court and asked the police to arrest him anywhere he is. Secondly we are in court challenging the decision of the court to revise the bail conditions, we feel that legally they ought to have consulted us and given us the option because a bail is like a contract if there is an imposition of a term in the contract it is up to you to decide to accept it or not so that first imposition of the condition we were able to accept but the second one when the bail terms were now changed by the court we now said no more or less like shifting the goal post in the middle of a game and so there is still that case that is ongoing but the current position today is that the bail has been revoked by the court that granted the bail.
Stakeholders are of the opinion that the President should have given Nigerians a new electoral act before appointing Prof. Mahmood Yakubu as INEC Chairman for a second term. What is your reaction to this?
I think the two are separate issues, whoever is the chairman of an electoral body will simply implement the laws that we pass as an electoral act and we have not sat in plenary or seen anything in respect of his appointment. So, I can’t comment on anything has not been brought to the floor of the senate. At best, it’s speculation.
What is the update on the electoral bill?
Well, we are working on the electoral bill at the moment and what we are asking the committee on electoral reform to do; I think they have been given a time frame, is by the first quarter of 2021, we should be able to pass a new electoral bill. There are so many things we have slated for the first quarter of 2021; the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), the Electoral Act and so forth.
The opinion in some quarters is that the EndSARS protest and the anarchy that trailed it all have everything to do with power shift or zoning of the presidency, come 2023. What is your perception of that?
The EndSARS protest has nothing to do with 2023. Well, anybody who wants to tie it to that (2023) is being very, very mischievous. It has nothing to do with it. The point really is simple. The SARS unit of the police had become totally notorious; the operatives were laws unto themselves and assumed the powers of even the court.
They were the accusers and judges, the juries and executioners at the same time. How would a unit of the police be able to accuse somebody, judge the person and execute the persons? That was the reality that youths had to face. At a particular time, even your rights as person may have been violated.
For example, it’s a court that can grant the right to say submit your cellphone so that it can be checked but they would stop Igbo traders going from the east to buy things in Lagos and check their phones. If they see the amount of money that were in the accounts because people are no longer carrying cash but transferring money, they would detain the traders and sometimes murder them, bring out POS machines and transfer their (victims) money.
All sorts of things were going on; people were settling their personal disputes using them and nobody could walk around safely. If you are a youth, the mere fact that you had dreadlocks just as we wearing afro as large as anything at a time when I was 15 to 16 year old was seen as something else. Of course, youths of today choose their style as dreadlocks and that is up to them. It is the fundamental human right of anyone to dress and feel the way he or she wants.
Before SARS were disbanded, if you had tattoos, all of a sudden that made you a criminal. So many things were just going on with impunity to the extent that even other police men were scared of them because if you report them to other policemen, they would say “they are SARS, they are being controlled from Abuja” or somewhere nobody could fathomed.
So, as they continued killing several youths, it was one too many that led to the tipping point and people poured out into the streets. The reason was that each and every one of them had suffered from brutalities in the hands of the SARS and if you really meet families that were brutalized; you will really feel very, very sad.
EndSARS protest, initially, was good but later everything crept in and what crept in was first the effort to expand the frontiers of what they (protesters) were seeking and it was at that point that things broke down.
Of course, I went out with the senate leaders to speak with them (the protesters) when they came to the National Assembly gate the first day. I asked: “Whom do we talk to?” Some of them said: “No, we don’t have a leader.” That was a tactical error, when you have no leader, then you will have nobody that can say let us do this and that; it meant that we could not have whom we could bring in and talk with about their demands.
By saying that they had no leader when the government was given in to some of the demands, the implication was that anybody could bring up another issue and if other protesters agree with it, they continued with their action and that was why it was impossible to stop the protest. When one of those, who was seen as part of their leaders or founding fathers pulled out, he said on the day he pulled out that the protest was being overtaking by other things. That meant that they had started having cracks in the movement.
What is your hope for Nigeria and the Youths?
Actually, EndSARS protest provided hope for Nigerians. If you remember, I said at the beginning (of this interview) that it transcended ethnicity, transcended religion and transcended all that kept us down in Nigeria. They (the protesters) had also by the use of social media and other media tools brought us into the new economy of the world; the new economy is simply the knowledge economy. It is no longer the old economy that we had and that means that they had also shown that Nigeria can compete in the 21st century at the same level in the comity of nations.
It was at that same time that a couple of Nigerians were selling apps for millions of dollars. Those were a couple of Nigerians who had now brought us into the new economy and you could see there was hope and the hope really was on the young Nigerians and I make bold to give an advice: Use the same tools that you used to mobilize people to get everybody mobilized to come out and vote in the people that you want to be in office because if the youths go back without utilizing this opportunity they will still get the whole bad leaders and they will come back complaining again.
If they are able to use this, because the USA upcoming election has shown us one thing now; the youths’ votes have moved up by a factor of almost three right now which means almost three times the number of youths that voted in the last election in USA are going to vote now.
So, if the youths’ votes in Nigeria can go up by this factor, what it will do is that when you vote out the bad leaders, the man who comes in knows that you brought him in and will be dependent on you to do the right thing. Part of what happened in past elections that make our leaders to be so arrogant was that they rigged themselves into power; they feel that they don’t need youths, they didn’t vote them in but they brought themselves in.
So, let us utilize the power of the youths to now make sure that youths bring in new leaders. If they want to form a political party and bring in youths, let them go ahead. The only thing that I see is that there are still a few good people; not everybody is bad.
Therefore, not everybody was targeted (in the aftermaths of EndSARS protest).
Thank you very much.