His Royal Majesty, Lucky Ararile, the Ovie of Umiaghwa Abraka kingdom, is a delight to journalists, any time any day. The retired Air Vice Marshal in the Nigeria military did not only climb to the zenith of his military career, he is also an intellectual with degrees in Business Administration, financial management and defence and strategic studies. But beyond all these, even though he retired home to serve his people as a first class royal father, he has up-to-date knowledge of the happenings in the local, national and international social-economic and political arena. In this interview, the monarch took a critical look at the state of the Nigerian nation, among other issues, and offered his fatherly advice to those whom he considers are holding on to the levers of power in the country.
His Royal Majesty, from your own perspective, what is your assessment of the state of the nation, Nigeria, as at today?
Let me give you the opinion of some international organizations first before mine. We are now ranked number 14 out of the 178 countries of the world in the order of what they called tendency to become a failed state, fragile state index they called it. Our position in the other global indexes are equally bad. So, if you look at those states that are below us, you could easily observe that most of them are either at war or near so. So, we are in the company of such countries like Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, you name it. Those are the companies we now keep. Some may argue that we are a failed state; some say we are a failing state. We all feel the pain. As Nigerians, there is not much difference to us between a failed state and a failing state.
So, if you agree with the opinions of international organizations as you have enumerated, what then would you regard as the elements of a failing state?
According to the United Nations rapporteur on extra-judicial killings and other matters, she summarized it basically to be injustice; injustice and the compounding of injustice. So, when you grumble or complain that the system is unjust to you, instead of the system addressing the injustice, it compounds it. So, whether we are talking about the injustice of the Niger Delta, or we are talking about the mishandling of the injustice that was meted out to the original founder of Boko Haram that snowballed into what they have now; or the injustice of land grabbing by people who are not Nigerians to the extent that as we speak, almost every square kilometer of Nigerian land is under contest between the indigenes and some foreigners, injustice underlines the character of a failing state. So, whether you want to talk about Delta State, with the influx of the so-called Fulani herdsmen; whether it is in the South East, whether it is in the South West, whether it is in the middle belt or in the North West, the invading Fulani are there. You do not hear so much of the problem of the Fulani herdsmen in the North East because that is already a battle zone. But you now have it in the North West.
me have categorized the Fulani herdsmen into three. You have the foreign Fulani herdsmen, the local Fulani herdsmen and those Fulani who were born and bred in the same environment with their host communities over the years. The entry of the foreign Fulani has been justified by the provision of the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement. The question to ask is what is the stake of these foreign Fulani in Nigeria? How did Nigeria become a party to a Protocol that allows foreigners to invade our country?
The categorization was made by the Governor of Kano State. [He categorized Fulani herdsmen into three – the foreign Fulani, the local Fulani and Fulani that are now indigenes in other states. In other words, they were born and bred in those states and they have been living their lives unmolested.] Now, those that are settlers in places other than their own, we have no problems with them. The local Fulani that have been herding their cattle through these centuries, we have not had any problem with them. Even in my kingdom here, I can tell you where their camp is, and they have been there since time immemorial. They come and go. Now, enters the third category of Fulani – those that are from other African countries, mainly from Guinea, Mali and some that have been dislodged from Central African Republic. And given the availability of illicit weapons, they come into the country armed. Before they leave Mali, Guinea to Nigeria, they would have passed through Senegal, Cote d’Voire, Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic before Nigeria; then from the North, through Niger. How come everybody is heading to Nigeria? Why don’t these countries have the same problems? They tried it in Ghana but the Ghanaian President decisively solved the issue. Here, definitely they are succeeding to the extent that almost every square kilometer of land in Nigeria is under contention between the indigenes and foreign Fulani herdsmen.
Now, let me make a distinction. Although we say foreign Fulani herdsmen, the truth is that those people have certain physical similarities with the local Fulani but they do not speak Fulfude. And they have sympathy too from the local Fulani. So, it is the sympathy of the local Fulani that has emboldened the foreign Fulani. And these foreign Fulani have no sympathy; they have no value for life; they have no attachment to anybody or any land. They are just there to main, to kill and to take possession of the land they are able to grab. So, this essentially is a land-grabbing issue. And we must look at it from that perspective and isolate the indigenous/local Fulani from those foreign Fulani.
ECOWAS protocol or no ECOWAS protocol, we have our own local laws that govern our interactions. You cannot say because the ECOWAS protocol guarantees free movement then you bring your cattle and because you have an AK47 rifle, you will go and take over somebody’s house. They even invaded the National Assembly at one point in time; they attempted incursions to some Nigerian universities at a time. Schools in Edo State at a time were almost close down because of Fulani. If they are actually grazing, do they have grasses in classrooms? So, the whole idea is another form of terrorism, and this time, it is to terrorize the indigenes so that they can run away from their land and they will settle there. This is the issue. And they have their sympathizers in Nigeria, otherwise it wouldn’t have been possible. There are the sponsors and people who are sympathizing with them. And this sympathy may be by bending local rules and laws and by supplying them with comfort, one way or the other, or financial support.
If you juxtapose this analysis of yours on land grabbing tendency by the foreign Fulani with the federal government’s recent RUGA settlement policy, though now suspended, is there any likelihood of compromise by the federal government?
The issue to consider is that this phenomenon has been in ascendancy only recently. So, why is it that all of a sudden Fulani are everywhere and are fighting everyone; the economy is collapsing, insecurity everywhere; people are being kidnapped everywhere, but the only policy which the federal government can sit down and think about was RUGA? Why the immediacy, why the urgency, with all the plethora of problems that we have that the government doesn’t seem to care about or address? Why the urgency with RUGA? And in any case, RUGA is a private business. With all the number of cows we claim to have, we are not a major producer or exporter of cattle. If this is how other countries grow their cattle, then in New Zealand, Australia, Botswana, etc, cows will be attending classes with students. But seriously, the issue of cattle rearing is a private matter.
And I take it beyond the general analysis that is being done in Nigeria. For me, cattle rearing in Nigeria should be declared as equal to slavery. Any elite that has a few cattle gives them to the son of the poor to who is expected to take them hundred and thousands of kilometers to rear those cattle for him for his own benefit, while his own children are in Dubai. It is a wicked system; it is an unfair system. So, for me, the issue is beyond cattle rearing, it is a question of humanity. It is immoral, it is unfair, it is unjustifiable that somebody, because he is materially better off at a point in time, wants to increase his wealth, buys cattle for another human being that is less privileged to rear for him. For me, it is the height of human exploitation akin to or even beyond slavery. So, this is an issue we have to promote with the United Nations to declare the type of cattle rearing as is being practiced in Nigeria as inhuman.
Prior to President Buhari’s emergence in power in 2015, you granted an interview where you expressed optimism about his ability to offer good leadership that will lift the country out of the woods. From what is happening in the country today, how would you assess his leadership?
Let me tell you this, the security issues in Nigeria are so many and they are mutating. So, we have security issues in the Niger Delta caused by injustice; you have security issues in the middle belt caused by injustice; you have security issues in the North East, Boko Haram. I remember in that interview I granted, I asked a rhetorical question: the way we are going after Boko Haram, is it actually a religious uprising or an attempt at land grabbing? At the time I asked that question, the Fulani herdsmen were not in the equation. So, you can see how the security issues are mutating. The strategy in the North East, I equally said then, was basically to contain the crisis within the North East states of Yobe, Gombe and Borno. Those were the areas they were concentrating on. But I asked the question: even if we are successful in containing the uprising in the North East, what about the areas bordering the North East that we are not focusing on? Are you going to build a wall to contain them? They are from the North and they claim they are all Muslims, so they can migrate elsewhere; they can go beyond the boundaries of the area where there was crisis already, into those other states outside the North East. And that exactly was what happened.
They have gone beyond that area now because if you are successful in the North East and you left the other places unattended to, you can be sure that they will relocate to other places; if not all of them, then some elements of them. So, we are faced with security variables that are mutating. And the sad point to note is that we have always been reactive. So, when you say you have degraded them in the North East, another variant or version of it appears in Zamfara. You now call the army, you call the Navy, you call the Airforce and the police to go there. Before you know it, another element of it has migrated to the South West. This is because, in the North East they were able to mobilize and they came out of their hiding. Initially, they were doing suicide bombings and things like that, but by the time they got sufficient funding and capacity, they moved out of their bases in the Sambisa forest to come and capture local governments and even set up some quasi governance. That is the point that I was happy about, that the army now have people they can deal with once and for all because they are now out of hiding. They are now holding ground; you know where they are. So, you can then take them at once. But what did we do; we were able to harass them, as it were, out of those local governments and we said we have decimated them, but they were not conquered. So they are back. Now, in the success of that decimation, from my own readings, we have been able to actually destroy some of their logistics in terms of weapons and even in terms of sustenance on the field and also in terms of funding. I think we have been able to dislocate that. But when you have done that, the elements of those whom you said you have degraded will be heating up the land.
So, if they cannot get funding from abroad, from their usual source, they must get it internally. And how do they get it? They have to kidnap people of means. So, they live off the land. I have said it before, that Nigeria is a copycat environment. When they now see that elements of decimated boko haram are now kidnapping people, even kidnapping girls and government is now negotiating with them and giving them money, it became a business. So, everybody is now affected. It is either you kidnapping or you are kidnapped.
Are you in support of government dialoguing with boko haram?
You see, in any conflict situation, you don’t use one approach. You use all the options available to you, as a country, to solve that conflict. You can dialogue with them, you can use military power, you can use your political power and you can use your diplomatic power. All these elements of power of the state must be brought to bear. So, if you think that you are going to solve this problem with the military option alone, you have a long thing coming.
You were in the military sir. It is being peddled in some quarters that the inability of the military to actually contain and deal decisively with the boko haram is due to poor funding and ill-equipping of the military. It is even claimed by some that boko haram has more sophisticated equipment more than the Nigerian military. What is your take on that?
Well, I’m one of the people who believe that, given the resources available to Nigeria, the military gets more than a fair share. You cannot fund the military with more than what you have. And their share of the national budget is significant. Now, it is the use to which these monies are put that is the issue. If, as in the case of the former national security adviser that is under incarceration, Col. Dasuki, who could have a discretionary right over $2.5 billion that was voted for arms and disbursing same the way he wants, then it is incredible. So, it is not the quantum of the money allocated to the military that is the issue, it is the use to which it is put to. And once it is not effectively used, then of course, your military can only perform as much. That is why at a time, Nigerian soldiers were running on foot across to Cameroun. They have stopped running to Cameroun now not because of anything but because boko haram are now in Cameroun and therefore they cannot be running away from boko haram in Nigeria only to run into them in Cameroun. So, boko haram is actually helping to prevent our soldiers from running away.
…in other words, in spite of the significant funding, the military is still ill-equipped?
They have been saying so. If they are provided with adequate equipment would they be saying that they are ill-equipped? If they are provided with adequate equipment and they are not performing, then we can say it was due to poor morale, poor welfare and poor motivation. But when they themselves are telling you that they don’t have adequate equipment, you have to believe them. But let me tell you. The overall problem I see with the Nigerian security architecture, I can disintegrate each component and deal with it. But let me start with the overall. When you set up a defense system, the Army, the Navy and the Airforce – you can task each of these services directly to a specific job that is part of their own. For example, during the administration of Ronald Regan of the US, you heard of the Airforce going to Libya to bomb some targets. Those operations were not for all the services. It is mission specific operation. You can give it to the Airforce, you can give it to the Navy and you can even give it to the Army. There are those which even though they are mission specific, you still need the support of other services. So, you have what we called the leading and the supportive services. If the Airforce is the leader as has been tasked in a particular assignment, the other services are to provide support. Then of course, we have the joint operation.
But what do we have in Nigeria? We have militarized the police and civilianized the military. In a situation where you see at the lowest level, a pick-up truck with soldiers, the police and the National Security and Civil Defence Corps – all of them in one pick-up going for an operation, that speaks volume of the confusion and lack of professionalism.
President Buhari has just appointed ministers into his cabinet. What is your take on the composition and secondly, what would be your suggestions to the president on how to lift Nigeria from the wood?
Well, as to the appointment of the ministers, first of all I congratulate them. Most of them, I would say, have some precedents that are enviable and some not so enviable. But what they would bring to the table, I do not know. The president has his own prerogative. He has more facts about the individuals than I do. But I, as a consumer, would have to wait for their performance. My comment would have to be ex-post facto, that is, after the fact; this one performed, that one didn’t perform. I don’t know the basis on which they were appointed. As for the president, I have been praying for him as a Nigerian. I will continue to pray for him. I also enjoin Nigerians to pray for him. Certainly, he is not the president we thought he would be; maybe on account of his ill-health. But be that as it may, I would say what I had said before, I think we are now on auto-pilot. We are supposed to be running, not walking. We are going back now in the economy. From 2.3 percent of GDP, and by this last release by the National Bureau of Statistics, we are now 1.94 percent of GDP; which is slower. Take note that 2.3 percent GDP was poor in any case. Anything less than 5 percent GDP, then we are creating more poverty. Today, it is being said that Nigeria is the leading capital of poor people in the world, that is 46 percent of the total population of 200 million people. In the next ten years, probably 99 percent of the population of Nigeria will be poor if we continue in this trajectory.
Only recently, Nigerians were taken aback with a rude shock of a British court judgment that awarded a fine of $9.6 billion against Nigeria following a purported breach of contract between the federal government and an Irish company, P&ID which, by the terms of the contract, was supposed to build and operate a gas facility in Calabar to energize our power sector. Analysts are of the view that if that fine comes to stay without appeal, then the economy of the country will nose-dive. What are your thoughts on this issue?
Well, as at now our reserve is about $44 billion. If we pay $9.6 billion out of that, it will come down to about $34.4 billion. And you know at a time when we were at $33 billion, panic was all over the place because we didn’t have sufficient foreign exchange. The immediate consequence of that is that we will have the Naira devalued whether we like it or not. You remember that the president was against the devaluation but the naira was devalued in spite of him. That devaluation occurred as a result of market forces. You don’t have dollars, you don’t have it. It is not wishful thinking. So, that will be the immediate consequence. But I want to take it on the general level. When I sit and think about Nigeria, I think that there is a conspiracy for Nigeria to go backward to 14th century. There is a conspiracy among the elites because of the choices we make. The elites who control the levers of power do not want Nigeria to develop. So, the issue of development you are hearing is nothing but lip-service. Some people really want Nigeria to go backward to the 14th century. Else, the simplest thing to do if you want Nigeria to develop even without government commitment, is to make power available.
The question is why have all our efforts to develop power so far failed? Obasanjo spent $16 billion on power. For some reasons, he actually built some plants, E.g, the Niger Delta Power Holding Company built about 10 power plants that are gas-based. Do you know that it takes about four years to build an average 200 or 300 MW plant? Obasanjo was there for eight years. Do you know that it was when Obasanjo left that we now realize that all those power plants had no gas, and that we needed gas to power them? It was Buhari that started the infrastructure to provide gas supply to the plants. In Obasanjo doing that, do you think he actually meant to solve the power problem? Now, these gas company, P&ID, would have solved our gas problem to the tune of about 2000 megawatts that it would have supplied us. That would have made a lot of difference. Okay, there were issues as to the character of the persons and as to the agreement in the contract. But the contract was entered into since 2010. What are the alternatives since the project was a good one? The fact remains that we still need the project.
So, what have they done since 2010? They didn’t do anything. The man goes to court. It is not the first court case he was having with Nigeria, if you can access Bloomberg and find out. That is even just one court case. There are more court cases that will come up as a result of this. Even Shell and one other company went to the United States court to want to reactivate an existing judgment debt of $1.8 billion that Nigeria refused to pay. Just recently a judge in the United States threw it out. More of that are going to come because of our disdain for rule of law and impunity, for not following procedures. Even locally here, the amount of judgment debt that the federal government is sitting on is enough to kill the economy. Local contractors that were given legitimate contracts used their money from the banks to execute the contracts but the government refused to pay them, and they cannot do anything. That is at the local level. So, they extend this impunity to the international arena. For me, this is just a tip of the iceberg.
Xenophobia or the killing and wanton destruction of property of citizens of other African countries including Nigeria, has become an issue in the front burner in recent times. The minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffery Onyeama has said that the federal government was considering sending Nigerian police to South Africa to protect Nigerians there. Is that possible? How do you think the federal government should deal with the issue?
On the South African xenophobia issue, my thoughts are along the same line as that of the former American Ambassador to Nigeria. I think at a symposium for Chinua Achebe recently, he made a speech. He talked about the irrelevance of Nigeria in international affairs. So, what is happening to Nigerians in South Africa is what has been happening in Ghana, is what has been happening in Libya, is what has been happening all over the world. So, we have made ourselves irrelevant. Once you are irrelevant, nobody takes you serious. I will remind the president of what happened during the late Murtala Muhammed who was in power for just six months. At that time, people still go abroad on ships. A Nigerian lady aboard a ship to the UK was maltreated. They beat her up and she lost a tooth. Just because of that, the Nigerian government recalled her High Commissioner to Britain. The government threatened a lot of sanctions against Britain because of this individual event. In Ghana, in the prison at Tamale, all the inmates are all Nigerians. Nobody talks. So, we are all on our own. We are our own moving country. You as a Nigerian, nothing the government is doing for you. Just do for yourself. So, what the South Africans are doing is what they have assessed us to be. They cannot do it to other countries. Even a small country like Mauritius which is off their coast, they cannot do it to them. So, as to the question of what can we do, I can see some people going to destroy MTN masts and Shoprite. Most of all those things are owned by Nigerians. They don’t know that Shoprite is a franchise where you can even go to sell your newspapers and so on. Most of the shops there are owned by Nigerians. And when you burn it, you burn Nigerian property. MTN workers are Nigerians.
How did we get here?
Mismanagement! People who get into power without an idea of what development is all about, without an idea on how to generate revenue. They just think that you if you load 100 barrels of crude oil, you sell at so much dollars per barrel, then money is not the problem. So, if you look at our annual budget over the years, if you reduce it to dollar term, nothing has changed. Meanwhile, our population has grown from 55 million to 200 million. Our budget in dollar terms has not moved proportionately. Since I was a young man, I have been hearing that Nigeria is going to have 40 billion barrels reserve of oil. The new Group Managing Director of NNPC, Mr. Mele Kyari is singing the same song now. The same thing I was hearing of electricity during Obasanjo regime, 10,000 megawatts. Obasanjo spent $16 billion dollars on power. I don’t know how much President Buhari has spent so far. And now, they are reversing back to 7,000 megawatts.
How successful has the war against corruption been, in your own estimation?
As for corruption, let me use that word again, ex post facto. When they hear that you have stolen, they will arrest you. But corruption is endemic in Nigeria – from top to bottom, to the last person. It must be a holistic approach; it must be systematic. There must be strategy in place to prevent it from happening. I know they introduced this thing they called whistleblower, that one is dead now. So, it must be a holistic approach where we can stop people before they become corrupt. We can even educate students in the schools as to the dangers of corruption. And I’m happy to note that the president, when he was head of state, introduced War Against Indiscipline, WAI. And people were queuing to take their turns in every public event. It was a well-planned campaign. But this one, there has not been any campaign. Have you heard any campaign jingles from the National Orientation Agency? So, all they do is to wait for somebody to write a petition against another person and they will go and arrest him. By that time, you can no longer get all the money the person may have stolen.
Your Majesty, recently one of Urhobo illustrious son, Senator Ovie Omo-Agege was elected as the Deputy President of the Senate. What is the implication of that to the Urhobo nation?
Well, let me congratulate the Distinguished Senator for his doggedness, for his political sagacity and to say that for us as Urhobo, we are happy, we are proud of him. He merits it. But his position is not a mistake. I want to observe that Nigeria operate an ‘allocatory’ system of government. Things are allocated either by the land mass or population size. And going by that, Urhobo is the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. So, by deduction, we should naturally occupy a position which is not less than fifth in the country.
How would you react to the call for the establishment of State Police to stem the tide of insecurity in the country?
Okay, let us go through the whole gamut of the security architecture. We have the Army, Airforce and the Navy. We have the police, we have the National Security and Civil Defence Corps. Now, we still have the Peace Corps even though the president has not signed the bill for it into an Act but they have started operating in some parts of the country. Even if you remove the military, you still have the local vigilantees. So, with all these, why are we still looking for State police? This is because the police have not been up to its mandate. I have talked about the civilianization of the military. The military are now doing police work. The DSS has its own mandate but most of the time they do police work. NSCDC are doing police work. Yet, we still have this level of insecurity. So, the issue is not the layers of security agencies. People have to be held responsible when they are given a task. So, the police are not doing their job apparently. But it is not for the army to take over their jobs. You have to look at the reason why the police cannot perform. Is it the issue of funding? Provide fund for them; if it is the issue of manpower, then recruit more manpower for the Force. I hate going to the police station because whenever I go there when I come back, I stink. That service needs to be addressed. As for state police, you can see that right now, nearly all the states are insolvent. If you see a County in the U.S, the number of vehicles the police of a County have is more than the number of vehicles the entire police command in Delta State have. They are on radio, they are on telephone and they are on internet. If they are talking to you and they find out that you are armed, they make a radio call and before you know it reinforcement will arrive. So, let us address the issue of the police by catering for their welfare and providing the necessary tools for them to work. The Police Commissioners should be answerable to the State Governors on specified operational issues. The states cannot fund state police. Let us not just waste our time on that.