Dr Alex Egbona represents the Abi/Yakurr Federal Constituency of Cross River State in the House of Representatives. He is of the APC, the only one who was able to win the 2019 general election for his party in his state. In this interview, he gave solutions to the lingering insecurity challenges in the country.
How do you feel about the level of insecurity in Nigeria?
I don’t think there is anybody in this country who is not worried about what is going on in Nigeria today. We have not had it this bad before. I cannot remember any time in the life of this country, that security operatives, I mean policemen and soldiers, would be a target for armed bandits. I cannot remember anytime that armed boys will have the effrontery to over-run a police station, set it ablaze and kill the policemen. There is hardly any day that you will not hear of killings or kidnapping. It has now become a new normal for gunmen, and you people in the media will always call them unknown gunmen, to sack a police station. They now feel very free to go after policemen and other law enforcement agents. If you are not worried about what is happening in Nigeria, then I doubt if you have blood running in your veins. It is very scary, that we can no longer sleep with our two eyes closed. Our country is in flames everywhere and it gives me serious concern.
So, what do you think should be done?
I have a simple solution. I believe that if our president and governors and local government chairmen will pay attention to this, we will be out of this mess in no distant time.
Have you noticed that the people who are kidnapping and killing are doing so because of money? They want money. They are jobless and so that makes them angry. Each time they abduct, the next thing you will hear is ransom. It has become a trade for them because they have not been given jobs. So, if government can create jobs for them, or provide the enabling environment for them to eke out a decent living, they will be too busy to think of committing crime.
Take your time and look at the people who are involved in these criminal activities. They are the youths, most of who have left school and are still unemployed after many years. They leave their villages, they leave their local government and enter the city in search of opportunities and in the process, they join gangs and before you know it, they have turned to killers and kidnapper.
The local government system has the capacity to absorb most of these boys. If the federal government can create an atmosphere for our unemployed youths to return to and maximise opportunities in the local government, things will get better. I was once a councilor. In my time, we were autonomous. The local government could embark on projects and there were opportunities for everybody who wanted to live a decent live in the village. Councilors had the opportunity to make things happen. As a councilor, I constructed culverts and bridges in my ward. Those things are still standing today, decades after I left office. The local government system should be revived and made to work. Let Buhari make a pronouncement that all unemployed graduates should return to their local government and register and get ready for jobs, they will all go to their villages.
The federal government should make sure that local government funds are sent to the councils directly and the governors should be compelled to take their eyes off local government funds. Why won’t there be insecurity when all the graduates are now in Calabar and in other cities? They are the people doing kidnaping now. How can someone who graduated 10 years ago survive when he has no job?
The so-called gunmen and bandits you hear of today, you think they deliberately want to suffer and subject themselves to hard life inside the bush and forests? You think they are happy doing what they are doing? They want to survive and unfortunately, they think that is the best thing to do. But if government can take them out of the bush and given them a source of livelihood, they will drop those guns. Nobody wants to suffer. They all want to enjoy the good things of life.
Our governors feel free to talk about federal system of government only when it suits them. They will cry about true federalism when their interest is involved. Most of them are still pilfering local government funds and that makes it difficult for the council chairmen to perform. Some of the chairmen only get stipends from their governors and that is it. The governor corners the money and uses it as he wants. They have killed the local government system.
When last did you hear that a local government chairman is presenting a budget to the legislative arm? When last did you hear that a local government chairman is doing projects, employing people, grading roads, building markets etc? These are all responsibilities of the local governments. See, as a councilor, I was able to employ people. I was able to provide start up capital for those who wanted. Which councilor can do that today? Which councilor has sponsored a bye-law in decades? Do they even have a legislative assembly in the local governments? The governors have killed that tier of the government. When it is time for local government election, they hand-pick people and put them there. And because of that, the people cannot talk. The local government system has become an appendage of Government House. This is wrong. Mr President should stop this. Any state that is still pilfering local government funds should not be given the allocation. If the local government system comes back to life, criminality will stop or reduce very, very drastically.
You find people in the cities because there is nothing for them in the local government. There should be a deliberate plan by the federal and state governments to make the local government system work. I repeat, all unemployed graduates should be told to go back to their local governments. An employment bureau should be created. The people should go and register and give their data. Those who can teach should be encouraged to teach. Those who can work in the farms should be given such opportunities. Those who can work in construction sites should be employed to work there. Those who want to learn trades should be assisted to learn. There should be something for everybody. The local government system has the capacity to absorb all these people. If this is done, the influx of people into the city will reduce. But what do you see today? Even the local government chairman, his concillors and even traditional rulers are all in the city. Why won’t there be crime?
In Rivers State, there was something called school-to-land-programme. Of recent, we started hearing of the Songhai farm project. It is in Cross River. It is in Rivers and perhaps other parts of the country. The point I am making is that we should do everything possible to encourage our unemployed graduates to get into modern agriculture practice. The local government system should be encouraged to do this.
When I was in the council, we floated a transport company and it was working. Have you seen this anywhere today? The level of unemployment is unimaginable. The governors should stop telling lies and face the real thing. If the governors are sincere, they can do a lot. Look at the natural resources we have in all parts of the country. In my state, you can take off these boys from the streets and help them to stand on their own through agriculture. We have solid mineral deposits. If we are sincere, some people will be doing piggery, some will do fishing, some will do cassava business, some will do rice farming and all that. The security challenges can be addressed if we are sincere.
People have accused Mr President of not taking charge
Mr president has his own role to play. But the governors and local government also have bigger roles to play. The citizens also have roles to play in all of this. I agree that Mr president has not acted well, he has not taken charge as would have been expected. Mr president needs to wake up and take charge. I agree.
I know that Mr President has a lot of good programmes aimed at reducing poverty in the country. But again, look at the drivers of those programmes, how are they driving the agenda of the president? Just recently, the sum of N20,000 was approved for payment to local women in the country. People were shortlisted as beneficiaries for the first phase. Their phone contacts and account details were collected. But when it was time to pay, those in charge decided to carry cash to go and pay instead of paying into the bank account of the people directly. They did this because they had ulterior motives. They ended up conniving with people of their ilk to steal what was meant for the poor, local community women. There are other programmes like this from the Buhari government but the people who drive the processes are the issue. Some of these civil servants are very corrupt and they do so brazenly. And people will still point fingers at the president.
Like I said, the president also has his own blames. Now, we are talking of Abacha loot. Why can’t the federal government take a good chunk of that money to create employment channels across the country and make sure that these boys are taken off the streets. Before you know now, that money will end up in the hands of a few people who will either go and bury the money or go and invest it outside Nigeria again. Some Nigerian leaders are too greedy and selfish. They amass so much wealth and create a bad name for Mr President. That is also one of the reasons why these boys do the things they are doing. They will see how some people are living in affluence, yet, many Nigerians can hardly afford a meal per day.
I know of many graduates who do menial jobs to survive. I know a young man in Abuja, a graduate of accounting, who sells windscreen wiper blades in traffic. You will see him run after drivers on the road and you won’t know that he is a graduate. Those in this group are even very few. His co-graduates are the ones abducting and killing; just that he and very few others have chosen not to tow that path. But there must be a deliberate effort to clean up these boys and give them hope. They will surely drop those guns if they see sincerity on the part of government to give them a new life.
But how do we deal with the criminals who have refused to drop their guns?
We have security agents who have the duty to advise Mr President on what should be done. I am not sure what we are going through is beyond the president or our security chiefs. All I would say is that the federal government should equip the security agencies to fight this battle to the end. We have no choice than to win the war against insurgency and criminality. Our children will not forgive us if we cannot fight and win this battle.
I expect Mr President to act like the military man that he is. I expect the security chiefs to look at Mr President in the face and tell him exactly what needs to be done to stop this national embarrassment. There is always a solution to problems like this and of course you know that thoughts on security solutions are not things you share in the media. But I have confidence that Mr President and his men will resolve this crisis and restore normalcy in do distant time.
Let us start from the local governments and ensure that they enjoy full and unhindered autonomy. Let’s take deliberate steps to create opportunities for our unemployed graduates. Then the youths themselves should also be ready to grab those opportunities when they come. Buhari has a very good heart. His lieutenants need to help him to succeed. We all have roles to play and the moment we play our roles, things will get a lot better.