Barrister Usman Bello Kumo represents Akko Federal constituency of Gombe State in the House of Representatives and chairs the House committee on police affairs. He laments what he calls "the deliberate marginalisation of the North-East", saying it is the root cause of insecurity in the region.
Excerpts from an interview with him:
You chair the police affairs committee of the House, are you satisfied with the way the police is tackling insecurity in Nigeria?
There are quite a number of challenges and they are so multi-facetted and multi-dimensional so much that you cannot look at the police as the only solution. The insurgencies are expected to be overcome by the security agencies but the root causes of insecurity are not being addressed and so the security agencies can virtually do nothing to curb the insurgencies.
The police is doing well because the situation is far better than it was initially. If you don't have an effective mechanism of information gathering, no matter how sophisticated your weapons are, you cannot do anything. Like Lord Dennings said, "You cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand." So you must know who you are fighting, his capacity, his reasons and whether you are supposed to counter or apply diplomacy.
My take is government should use the stick and carrot approach rather than use of total force because some of the problems are not religious. I am a devoted Muslim brought up in a Muslim community, studied Islam and I was a student of Sharia as I read combined law, Sharia and civil law so I know about Sharia. So government should in my understanding make sure all possible avenues including diplomacy are explored. For instance, fighting is going on in Mali - but that does not stop the French government from negotiations. So you can't tell me you won't negotiate simply because that is your philosophy.
In other words, you are also advocating for dialogue.
Absolutely yes. The root causes of the insecurity are poverty, corruption unemployment and injustice, and these include how government shares the national wealth, how people feel about being marginalized, and how federal positions are distributed.
The North-East is the most marginalized zone in Nigeria. We are like second-class citizens in this country. We are not being carried along in the corporate entity called Nigeria. The highest position we are occupying in the company called Nigeria today is the national chairman of the ruling party who was appointed long after the government has taken off and all structures have been put in place. This was after we were robbed of the office of the secretary to the government of the federation which was taken to South-East. What can the PDP chairman influence under a guided democracy? That we have ministers is just a constitutional privilege if not they won't even give us ministers.
But the South-West people are also crying of marginalization but none of the leaders of your region has said anything like that, is it that the North East is having deficiency of leadership?
We have leaders, some are doing their best but the government should be sensitive enough to understand that even if nobody cries because it is expected to be fair to us even if we do not complain. There is no federal presence in the entire region. We were deceived with the Mambilla Hydro power project, Maiganga coal project in my local government, Dadin Kowa Hydro power project, Benue trough oil, Lake Chad oil and a number of phantom projects but nothing is happening. No contractor has been mobilized to site. They will say there is insecurity but if we are to go for elections tomorrow they will look for votes there not minding the insecurity.
Don't you have ways of influencing projects to your regions as members of the National Assembly?
When you look at the psyche, approach and the manner of governance of the present government, you'll weep for Nigeria. Look at how long it's taken to sign the budget because the arm saddled with the responsibility of producing the document is not given free hand to do that and every time we make attempt to do our work we are being blackmailed, that we are putting projects that cannot be funded.
They are doing the envelope system where ministries are not given the opportunity to choose their priorities. In my committee the figure given in 2012 is exactly the same figure given in 2013 undiluted. They are just pushing figures without look at possible changes. But because we have matured leadership in both the House and the Senate they are trying to apply diplomacy and negotiations. They are doing selective implementation of the budget. If you look at the ministry of Niger Delta in 2012, their budget performance is over 87 percent but go to other sectors take water for instance, it is 48 percent. Why?
But what have you done as lawmakers from the region?
The National Assembly is the only organ of government that looks at Nigeria as country, we are guided by rules and we watch even the way we talk. Unlike the people in the executive, we are nationalists not regionalists and we are always fighting people who portray themselves as regional leaders.
Are you saying the Jonathan administration is implementing regional agenda in budget implementation?
That tells you the insensitivity of the government. The Maputo declaration says all African countries should dedicate 10 percent of their annual budgets to agriculture but because agriculture most likely goes to one region, the President in 2013 allocated only 1.6 percent to agriculture, but I believe if the predominant culture and occupation of the people of South South are predominantly agriculturalists may be Jonathan would have respected that declaration.
But for how long will you continue lamenting?
We will not continue lamenting because we are practically doing something about it and it will not continue this way. We have several options we are politicians and this injustice will not continue. We will continue to expose the injustice and insensitivity of this government to us as a people. What goes around comes around. We are lucky to have Aminu Waziri Tambuwal as speaker who understands how to be a nationalist.