C’mte chair on Defence, Hon. Benson answers
•Recommends what Nigeria can do to reduce insurgency
•says Yorubas, Hausas should work with Igbos for 2023
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
Hon. Babajimi Benson is the Chairman, House of Representatives Commitee on Defence. He represents Ikorodu Federal Constituency of Lagos State. In this interview, he amongst other issues spoke on why the parliament on Tuesday resolved to invite President Muhammadu Buhari.
On the invitation of President
The 9th Assembly is the people’s parliament. The leadership encourages us to have very robust debates and there was a motion on that day by Hon. Satomi. Hon. Jaha interjected and insisted that the motion requesting for Mr President to come should be adhered to. Some members felt that there was no need for Mr President to come because the prayer itself has a declaration of state of emergency. So, some members felt that that was more important than asking Mr. President to come and give account. We debated back and forth and there was a unanimous resolution to invite President Buhari and that’s what played out. So, Mr. President is meant to appear before the parliament within the shortest possible time.
What happens if Mr. President doesn’t show up?
If he doesn’t show up? As we all know, our resolutions are annoyingly only advisory but I think we’re not asking him to come and tell us about football games. We are asking him to come and give us account of the loss of lives of Nigerians and this has been happening for long. It happens in the west, south west, north west and everywhere, so somebody should come and tell us when this will stop. So, I think we are not asking for something out of the ordinary.
Do you think it is right for the President to continue keeping the Service Chiefs?
Personally, the parliament has spoken, but the type of constitutional democracy we practice gives the powers of appointment and sacking of service chiefs to the President. The buck stops at the table of Mr. President. So that’s how we have found ourselves.
Would you agree with people who say that the Service Chiefs and the President are incompetent?
I would not say incompetent. I will say that the challenges we face are not challenges that you can use security to cure. I will always say that you cannot use security to kill poverty; poverty, insecurity and lack of good governance. Because there are vast ungoverned areas. You know, the youths don’t have jobs in those areas. So, that breeds the devils workshop. And those youths are indoctrinated easily by bad guys and when indoctrination comes, you become determined, tenacious to those beliefs that they indoctrinated you in. So, that’s the problems we’re facing. W ’re facing very oppressed, suppressed, depressed Nigerians who don’t see any hope in Nigeria. So, I think we need a whole new strategy. It’s the Chinese military strategist that said that the skillful general is not that which wins 100 wars but the one that wins virtues and wars without going into a battle. So, how can we win this war without going into a battle? We need to provide governance, employment opportunities. We need to treat that area with a special status. We need to find a way of getting those youths and giving them hope, so they know there’s hope for them. Nobody wants to be a boko haramist. It’s because of the lack of opportunities, hopelessness that they are doing what they are doing. So, we need to find a strategy of reducing insurgents naturally by giving them a sense of belonging. We haven’t been able to do that.
The government has said repeatedly that boko haram has been defeated. But with the fatalities, deaths we keep seeing around, do you now think we are close to defeating the insurgents?
We haven’t. Boko haram is still out there and I have always said it. As long as there’s hopelessness, lack of governance lack of infrastructure and so on, as long as those things are not optimal, we will always have insurgents. I have always said to people the civil war was fought for three years but we’ve been fighting insurgency for 12 years without any end to it. I think, it’s only good governance. I don’t believe that boko haram has been degraded or defeated in any way.
The Federal Government recently seemingly recanted in the defeat slogan so to speak and attributed the delay in defeating boko haram to global powers blocking Nigeria’s moves to acquire weapons. What do you have to say about this and what should be done?
I have news for Nigeria. Those global powers, I think, will still continue to block us because they sell arms based on human rights records. The #EndSARS protests that happened will further give them excuse to delay or not to sell weapons to us. So, I think we need to have a rethink. We need to change our strategy to be able to eradicate this. Relying on western powers as we speak and based on our poor human rights records, will still make us struggle. We need to either build the alliances or be very strategic.
Let’s talk politics now. The former Governor of Lagos state, Mr Fashola recently said it maybe dangerous to jettison zoning in your party, APC. Would you support or oppose that argument?
Every zone or region has competent people. They have the ability or the capacity to present people who can deliver. I believe that there’s what you call equality. It’s allowing a set of people from one area to have a taste. Equality is allowing another set of people to also have a taste. By such doing, development will oscillate. So, I agree with what he former Governor has said, that agreements are sacrosanct. So, it’s always good to keep promises.
The Igbo have their eyes on the presidency in 2023. Do you think they should be given a chance in 2023?
Ok. I have a bias towards the Igbos because my family started out from NCNC and NPP. The late T.O.S Benson, the first minister of information and culture was a strong Zikist. I always have a bias for them. I even call them the Messi of Nigeria. You know when you have a football team, you know Messi can dribble and create doors and score but in the Nigerian nation, we put our Messi as a goal keeper. We have not been able to unleash the strength, the industry of the Igbos. If we do that, Nigeria will easily transform into the Taiwan of Africa. So, if you ask me, the agreement, if it’s going to oscillate to the South, yes, there can be a keen competition between the southerners to choose who the best candidate is. That’s the whole part of the equality. In fact, that’s what I’m talking about. The north has done it. Zone it to the south. Let there be a competition, the best person from the south should win. I’m also an advocate of the SouthEast having a new state to make it six. That’s how to force inclusion.
How will an additional state play out? Is it through constitutional amendments?
There’s constitutional amendment. There’s lobby. I haven’t seen the SouthEast create a lobby platform yet. Maybe, they are still strategizing but I want to see them have a strong push to ensure that happens. When they do that, it will also be nice for them to look at Lagos having a special status, we can also look at the north. Lake chad has receded and in receding, it’s causing a lot of migration from the North to the south. I think Nigeria should give what it takes to ensure that lake chad is restored to the glory days. I think Nigerians, the Igbos should look out for the yorubas and yorubas should look out for the Igbos. The Hausas should look out for the Igbos and Igbos should do same. If we can work Nigeria out like that, have a conversation about looking out for each zone, I’m sure Nigeria will be a better place.
How may you describe the relationship between the Yorubas and the Igbos in the south as it were?
Very cordial. There’s inter-marriage. There’s election in my senatorial district on Saturday (today). Most of the Igbos are rooting for the APC candidate. So, I believe it’s cordial and I believe we can get better.