Mr. President revealed a few months ago that there are Boko Haram sympathisers in his government. If that is the case, why has the President been reluctant in releasing their names or in apprehending them especially in the wake of the frequent attacks in Kano, Kaduna, Maiduguri and other Northern cities?
Abati: Well let me put it like this, you know that the Boko Haram challenge is a security challenge, and no one should doubt the fact that President Jonathan has been working hard at addressing these issues. Indeed he has been working very hard, and the security agencies, if you have been following the news very closely, have their charge to deal with this challenge, get to the root of it, and to use every means possible to tackle it, and government has expressed its total commitment to providing the political will and infrastructure, to make sure that both the Boko haram challenge and other security challenges are resolved.
But to go back to the specific challenge about sympathizers in the government, in the last one or two months alone, you will see that the security agencies, particularly the SSS has made a lot of headway in arresting or inviting for investigation or interrogation many prominent players in this Boko haram issue, including a senator of the federal republic, including persons who were implicated by key Boko haram figures, one of the spokesmen, the man who escaped and has been re-arrested, and several other players in that heinous empire, who have volunteered useful information to the security agencies. And many of these people have been invited for interrogations.
At least there has been one major trial that everybody can point to. What this means in real terms is that the government is not sleeping, what it means is that the government is fully attuned to the fact that its primary responsibility is to ensure the security and the welfare of the Nigerian people.
To show you one major area of illustration, you’ll recall that when Kabir Sokoto escaped from custody the president immediately gave an order that that man must be re-arrested. There were series of security meetings in the villa, with all the security chiefs being summon for meetings, all of this is reported, with minister of police affairs saying that the then Inspector General of police had been queried. And you know it was in the course of all of that that the Inspector General of police went on voluntary retirement, and another Inspector General of police was appointed.
All of these shows that we are dealing with a government that is really serious about the issue, and that is ready to deal with anybody either remotely or closely connected with anything arising from this Boko haram challenge, either in terms of the impact or in terms of the mismanagement of official responses. So I think that all of this is in the public domain, and no one should raise the question about the president being reluctant, to use your phrase, to deal with the problem. I think in this particular issue the government, the president particularly has shown a lot of determination, he has shown a lot of seriousness.
But at the same time, the president will be the first person to admit that terrorism is a novel phenomenon in our environment, and that on his own structurally, epistemologically, operationally, he poses a challenge to security agencies, also in terms of capacity and all of that, and that what we are doing is to raise our level of response and to strengthen the capacity of the security agencies to respond to this challenge, and I think that the administration needs to be given credit for some of the successes that has been recorded.
The second point that the president continues to make is that even the novel nature of this challenge resolving it is a collective responsibility, and that every Nigerian rather than denigrate the administration, can help by providing information, by providing encouragement so that all of us can deal with this scourge that affects all of us.
NVS: Ok, thank you for that. You did make mention of the determination exhibited by the government in tackling the security situation, especially the Boko haram menace. And, I guess a lot of people actually agrees with that given that prominent Boko haram members like Abu Qaka, Kabir Sokoto and so on, have been arrested. And you did mention the need to strengthen the capacity of the security agencies, and the novel nature of the entire issue of terrorism in Nigeria.
Then again, a lot of people will like to know what is actually contributing to the delay in prosecuting these people that have been arrested, because a lot of people will like to see them prosecuted, not just the fact that they have been arrested and are being interrogated. People want to see them pay for what they have done….What kind of explanation will you give Nigerians as to why there is delay in prosecuting them?
Abati: I don’t know where this your point about delay is coming from. The reality is that a number of the arrested persons are in court and they are being tried. But if you’re referring to some of the celebrated persons who have been arrested, I think a simple answer to this is to know that the criminal justice system, or if you like, the criminal justice administration system, has a procedure.
When you arrest a man you don’t just rush him to court. There would be thorough investigations, you prepare a case against the person, you follow the procedure. You prepare your case, and then you make sure that the prima-faci case has been properly established. And if you go by most of the things that have been reported in the papers, even the interrogation, there has been reports of the interrogation of some of the principal persons like Abu Qaqa coming out in the press. And you know also that the security agencies are also involved in the process of intelligence gathering. I think we should allow them to do their work.
If these persons are already in custody, we should know already that significant progress has been made, and that if they are still investigating, in due course those who have not been taken to court would be made to face the wrath of the law and to have their day in court. We are running a democratic system, but again we must respect that justice administration is procedural.
NVS: Alright thank you. Moving on from there I’ll like to ask whether you think the state of emergency working and whether it be expanded to states we have seen increasing Boko Haram activities like Kano State and Kaduna state, and even Sokoto to an extent?
Abati: The state of emergency that was declared in some parts of the country is a way of sending a very strong signal that the government is determined to deal with the scourge, and I believe that it is working.
As to whether it will be extended, I cannot give you an immediate answer on that. But what is very clear is that government is working very hard, government is developing its capacity, the security agencies have improved in terms of their responses to the Boko haram challenge. Terrorism began as a foreign novel strange phenomenon. But a lot of knowledge had been gained and a lot of progress is being made in dealing with the scourge.
In the last one month alone, yes there have been issues here and there, but most of the stories have been how the task forces in the various security agencies have been making significant headway. I think that’s what we should focus on.
NVS: Ok, thank you. Still on the security issue, a lot of people are concerned about the continued clashes between farmers and the fulani herdsmen, is there any plan to enact a law to restrain both parties especially the fulani herdsmen from encroaching into farmlands and thereby resulting in tension with the farmers?
Abati: Well, I don’t think it is proper to frame the question in an ethnic sense. I think that what should be emphasized is the fact that one of the major challenge…… is the citizenship common bond. I think it is sad that we live in a country where some people in certain parts, in certain communities, are considered settlers or non-indigenes or they are not considered citizens, or they are considered stateless, community-less.
Whereas the constitution is very clear. The Nigerian constitution makes it very clear that every Nigerian has certain inalienable rights, and I think there are existing laws under the constitution and the statutes generally dealing with the rights of Nigerians, and I think rather than talk about the plan to enact a law, the thing is to see that there are already existing laws to protect the citizenship rights of all Nigerians.
There are two levels of challenge. One, for every Nigerian to respect the rights of the other Nigerian to exist. Two, for every Nigeria to respect the quality of all citizens, which is a basic principle under the laws of Nigeria. And three, I guess this where it affects government, for government to work harder in the area of national orientation. And recently President Jonathan changed the leadership of the National Orientation agency and the administration under him is placing more emphasis on national orientation as way of drawing the attention of Nigerians afresh to certain basic values, about the bonds that tie us together, namely that this country belong to all of us, and that no person must be considered inferior, either on the basis of ethnicity or religion or extraction, and this is the basic principle in the basic law which is the constitution.
So I think that this is not about enacting a law. these are the three levels that I’ve defined and there is no doubt that the security agencies have their road mapped out for them already under the law, which is to protect the rights of every Nigerian as citizens with inalienable rights, whoever they may be, whether farmers or Fulani herdsmen or fishermen.