Former governor of Rivers State, Sir Celestine Omehia has said that the governors of the North Eastern part of the country has missed the opportunity of nipping in the bud, the escalating insecurity in the region. As such, he argued that they don’t deserve to be in office.
Omehia, who assumed office at the height of militancy in the Niger Delta region, particularly, Rivers State, in this interview with AIDOGHIE PAULINUS in Abuja, relieved how he stemmed the tide in the oil-rich state. He said the North East governors were supposed to take the bull by the horns as leaders on ground by involving indigenes of the affected areas in counter-terrorism efforts. He lamented the level of insecurity in the affected states, saying that the governors allowed a minor issue to escalate to the world stage.
“First, I see it (Boko Haram) as political. And I see it also as a sign of weakness on the part of the governors of those states. They are weak. They are not supposed to be governors. I see it as a way of trying to paint the Federal Government with charcoal, but it has now boomeranged”, Omehia stated. He spoke further on this and much more. Excerpts…
What is your take on the handling of the Chibok abduction?
My view is that in the first instance, Chibok issue shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened because I believe that the North East governors are not on ground. It is my firm belief that the Federal Government ought to have come in if the state governments were tired of handling the matter. I give you a simple example: when I was governor of Rivers State, I met a bad situation on ground. The situation was that the cultists in the state had taken over Rivers State, everywhere, basically the Port Harcourt metropolis. And I didn’t leave it lying down. I didn’t leave it for the Federal Government. I took action before I invited the Federal Government. What did I do? I declared war against the cultists and decided that infringement on the rights of the citizens should come to an end. Then, I came back to the Federal Government and the late President Yar’Adua authorized the Inspector General of Police to give us police support and at the same time, authorized the Army to come to our aid. So, I funded the security aspect of it. I gave the soldiers all the financial assistance they needed, I gave the police all the financial assistance they needed and they came up with their drawings in security meeting – their plans of action and all they needed to do to quell the crisis. And we achieved that. Whatever the soldiers wanted, we funded it. And besides the military and the police, we also formed what they called the Peace and Reconciliation Committee where we involved the citizens of Rivers State, who also by themselves, realised that there was need for them to play a role to restore peace to Rivers State. And all these things happened without the declaration of amnesty. And when these forces came in, all the cultists left Rivers State. I remember my colleague in Imo State, Ikedi Ohakim, calling me that your people are all in Imo State hotel, Concord Hotel, that I should come and take them back. I said who and he said the cultists, that they have left Rivers State. I said take them, I dash you. That was the extent it went. I can tell you that two of them wrote letters of apology to the state government.
Is that so?
Yes. And I came up with the theory of stick and carrot. I said look, if you repent and change, Rivers State government will accept you into the society and we will give you whatever it takes to rehabilitate you. That was our theory. And if you refuse to change and continue to destroy the society, then the government will come after you and that is the stick. So, the carrot is, we will rehabilitate you, give you whatever financial assistance you want.
And they accepted?
And they accepted. And the stick will be, if you refuse our offer, we will come after you. And the people withdrew. By the time we left, there was relative peace in Rivers State. Ask any person who bothers to know.
The question is, what are the governments of these states doing? I am not talking about the Federal Government. They allowed the thing to get bad to this extent and they say the Federal Government did not do anything. I can tell you that the state governors are more on ground than the Federal Government and they ought to know who is who in each of the states and in each of the local governments. And if the state governors say that they don’t know who is who in each of the local governments, then they are not supposed to be governors.
What exactly should they have done?
What they should have done is first, involve the indigenes of those states for reporting, for snooping, for investigation and those people will report back to the state government and if the state government is serious, they will take necessary action with the aid of the Nigeria Police Force and the Nigerian Army. But they must set up the snooping gang, what we call neighbour to neighbour investigation before involving the Federal Government. But now, the whole world is involved in an issue that they could have handled. For goodness sake, those are minor issues.
You talked about Chibok. Is Chibok in heaven? Is it not located within a state? Are you saying that there are no people who are indigenes of those areas? Are you saying that those people cannot relate with the state governor and the state administrative machineries? Are you saying that they don’t know who is who in Boko Haram? Of course, they know all these people. Without involving the Federal Government, these your good citizens, because all of them are not part of Boko Haram, those people who are not part of it, should be working for the state government and through their reporting system, the Federal Government can be involved. There wouldn’t have been the issue of kidnapping or maybe the issue of abduction.
Do you see politics in the whole scenario?
First, I see it as political. And I see it also as a sign of weakness on the part of the governors of those states. They are weak. They are not supposed to be governors. I see it as a way of trying to paint the Federal Government with charcoal, but it has now boomeranged. They cannot again handle it because they never expected it to explode to this extent.
I don’t also believe that these numbers of children were taken in one day. How? What is the size of the lorry that they used in taking them in one day? If they were taken in one day, where are the indigenes of those states that could have reported the matter to the police? If they were taken in one day, how did they load them to drive them out of the school? If they were taken in one day, how are they feeding them now? Of course, they must fetch water; of course, they must get food to feed them; of course, they must get things to bath them and keep their hygiene and their life system. Up till now, no person tells you how they fetch water for over 200 students, how they get garri and other foods for over 200 students, how they get the money. If they were taken, then they are not in that forest. They are in somebody’s house inside town.
Do you see the involvement of the governors of those states in the activities of Boko Haram?
The security agencies can tell more of that, whether they are involved or not. But what I see is lackadaisical attitude, indifferent attitude.
Some have called for a total state of emergency in the affected states. Do you support that?
I think that will be a better alternative. Total take-over by the military and then, let’s know who to blame because if the military takes over and they don’t succeed, we can now blame the Federal Government. If the military does not take over, we have shared blames, the federal and the states.
Using your Niger Delta experience, how can we end the insurgency in the North?
It is going to be a holistic approach. It is not going to be a one-way traffic by the Federal Government. The Federal Government, through the security system, to me, should involve the locals now that there is no outright state of emergency where there is removal of the governors. There is no outright state of emergency in the North; therefore, the governors who are still there should continue to be involved in the efforts.
Two, the military should be more dedicated to this fight because it is affecting Nigeria; it is affecting the peace of Africa and West Africa and the coastal states and the peace of Africa as a whole. If you don’t handle it very well, it is going to spread.
Three, the international bodies should also be allowed to take part, effectively take part because it is going to affect the peace of the world if it is not properly handled.
Are you saying that they should be allowed to take part in the operation?
Yes. Both logistics and in anyhow the Nigerian military is going to involve the assistance from any of the countries of the world. I think the Nigerian governors should utilize it effectively because the spread of this Boko Haram is not going to affect only Nigeria. It is going to affect the neighbouring countries. It is going to be, if not handled, another Pakistan in Africa.
Are you scared about the escalation of the insurgency?
I am not scared because the attacks for now, will also not affect the whole country. It is going to be localized in those areas.
Don’t you think the insecurity may mar the 2015 election?
I don’t think so. I don’t think the insecurity will affect the 2015 elections because the president and the military are up to date in their actions. But all we are asking for is total eradication. So, since it is not yet totally eradicated, it could be reduced to a minimal base. Therefore, it will not affect the election. If it affects the election, then we will say that some people are behind it for purposes of politics.