Nigeria: Government to Set Up National Security Commission

By Peter Umar-Omale, Ndubuisi Francis, Toba Suleiman And Amby Uneze, 1 October 2001

Lagos — In a move to douse the raging ethnic conflicts in the country, the Federal Government has announced plans to set up a Commission on Security to advise it on how to strengthen security and protect lives and property.

Announcing the plan in his National Day broadcast this morning, President Olusegun Obasanjo noted that peace and security are fundamental foundation stones on which democracy and development need to be anchored.

Against the backdrop of the recent ethnic/religious crises in Jos, Plateau State, Obasanjo who also spoke last night in the presidential media chat on NTA admitted that there are many flashpoints in the country. He cited Abeokuta his hometown as one of such areas where time-worn peace was giving way to bickerings by hitherto two friendly brothers and expressed government determination to check the trend.

Obasanjo in his broadcast urged Nigerians to live together in harmony warning that none of them should be regarded as a settler wherever he or she chose to live in the country.

In apparent reference to the Jos crisis, Obasanjo reminded Nigerians that “the constitution that binds us together as a society grants each and everyone of us the right and freedom to live and enjoy full citizenship status anywhere within this country.

“This is a fundamental right that we have all enjoyed at one time or another as we move up and down the country. We all have the duty to respect this fundamental right of every other Nigerian and I am confident that we can do this without prejudice to our ancestral claim, no matter how long the history,” Obasanjo said.

Alluding to what could have caused the crisis, Obasanjo advised that “we owe it to ourselves and to the future of this great nation that we are engaged in building, not to think or see any fellow Nigerian as a settler — in our country where he or she is a citizen by birth — so that we can feel justified to demand that he or she departs our neighbourhood, when it suits our whims.”

He then declared that “we cannot realistically build a nation on such shifty, whimsical and disunited notion and social attitude.”

He reminded Nigerians that as a nation, we know and must appreciate co-existing with others as necessarily entailing and sure to generate friction in one way or the other. Development, democracy and maturity lie in not allowing the friction due to our coexistence to degenerate into violence, but in keeping faith with mutual respect upon which we can establish mechanisms at all levels for managing our differences and ironing out frictions.

Obasanjo who admitted that it has not been easy in the last 28 months, however, listed as some of the achievements of his administration the upward review of salaries and wages of all civil servants; upward review and prompt payment of pensions of retirees; the setting up of the Niger Delta Development Commission with the support of the National Assembly; tackling the problem of corruption to the setting up of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission; and the taming of the scourge of human rights violation through the Human Rights Violation Investigations Commission.

On the dark side, Obasanjo said “what remains to be done is vast and enormous, far eclipsing the modest achievements we have recorded so far. Despite our determined efforts in the area of poverty eradication, far too many of our citizens still remain poor. Our industries are being revived and government has taken many measures to support them, but industrial capacity is still far below the levels we would like to see. Inflation is still with us, though today, it is not as alarming as it used to be.”

Speaking on the NTA interview programme, Obasanjo said one way of nipping ethnic crisis in the bud was to look at the causes of such conflicts and proactively check a resurgence in future.

He added that his government’s determination to nip conflicts in the bud has been gradually yielding positive dividends, citing the mediatory role in resolving the Ife-Modakeke, Amuleri-Aguleri conflicts, among others.

Although he admitted that complete peace has not been attained in such areas, he however pointed out that the government has effortlessly dampened the replay of such conflicts.

He pointed out that in order to check the rising cases of ethnic, religious, sectional and other forms of violent crises in the country, a national security commission was imperative.

Such a commission, he noted, would look at the causes of such conflicts and advise the government accordingly.

On the number of Nigerian victims in the terrorists’ attacks on the United States of America September 11, Obasanjo said the actual figures were being collated.

Obasanjo disclosed that he was in close contact with the Nigerian Embassy and Consulate in the United States, adding that the number of Nigerians already confirmed dead were two while two are missing.

He noted that considering the fact that Nigerians are widely travelled people and highly ubiquitous, there was no reason why some of them would not have fallen victim of the tragic terrorists’ attack.

The President noted that although the Nigerian victims have been put at two dead and two missing, the country may have lost quite a few more of its citizens to the attacks.

He, however, stated that no Nigerian has been identified to be involved in the four ill-fated aircraft that were hijacked by the terrorists.

Obasanjo added that more Nigerians may have been involved in the attacks but due to their preference for not identifying themselves as Nigerians or undue change of names, it might be impossible to know their nationality.

On his reported statement in London that reparations to Africa was untenable, Obasanjo reiterated his position that there was no basis for such demands.

He premised his stand on such arguments as to how the money would be shared among Africans, how to determine the number of Africans that were taken into slavery and whether it was justifiable to blame the whites who were encouraged by our forebears to trade on their kinsmen and women.

Obasanjo said slavery and slave trade emanated from discrimination, noting that the practice stemmed from the consideration of others as inferior and as such the worst form of discrimination and inhuman treatment.

On the much clamoured Sovereign National Conference (SNC), Obasanjo said he would not be hesitant to organise the conference if the National Assembly passes a law on that.

He added that it was only through the amendment of the nation’s constitution and act of parliament that such a constitution can be held.

Asked if he did not deem it necessary to propose a bill to the National Assembly for such a conference, he retorted that it was unnecessary.

He argued that the clamour for such a conference was not popular, adding that its promoters were only concerned about how to foist sectional or ethnic agenda.

Citing a private discussion he had with an unnamed person, Obasanjo said he was able to establish that the motive behind the call for such a conference was to promote the emergence of a president from areas which felt they have been denied such right.

He, however, noted that if the reason behind the call for such a conference was to promote the emergence of presidents from particular sections of the country, it was unnecessary since his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) promotes rotation of offices.

On the recent government pronouncement on second hand vehicles popularly known as ‘Tokunbo,’ Obasanjo said the policy has come to stay to check the menace they pose to lives and security.

Noting that many of the vehicles were junk, Obasanjo stated that over 100,000 of such junks are curretly dotting the nation’s landscape.

He reiterated that the ban on the importation of such vehicles with over five years lifespan would remain.

He noted that his insistence that the money should not be disbursed was to guard against creating serious inflation, adding that he was concerned that injecting huge sum of money into the economy at this time would create inflation.

On the relative stability recorded in the supply of petroleum products, Obasanjo said it was not sustainable, saying deregulation still remained the panacea to the problems in the downstream sector of the petroleum industry but added that such a position was subject to review if it was discovered that it would impact negatively on lives and the economy generally.

On the $1.2 billion oil proceeds, Obasanjo said the states have finally accepted the Federal Government’s proposal that only proceeds from January to June this year should be shared.

He said any excess revenue fromJuly to December would be injected into the 2002 Budget.

In Lagos, Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu noted that all is not well with the country and “it is time to make necessary structural socio-political and economic changes that will guarantee the survival and prosperity of Nigeria.

He wondered why, after over 40 years as an independent nation, “our people have retreated to their various ethnic, regional and religious tents? Why is there so much continuous clamour for the disintegration of the country from so many quarters? Why, for millions of Nigerians, does the country remain no more than a geographical expression?…”

The reason is not any intrinsic hatred for the idea of a common Nigerian nationhood by the constituent units of the country. It is simply that the post-colonial Nigerian state has failed abysmally to live up to its responsibility and meet the needs of the people. The wide gap between the great expectation attendant on independence in 1960 and the grim realities experienced by the people has resulted in an understandable frustration with the state and a recourse to narrow ethnic regional and religious camps.

“At the root of most of the problems which plague us as a country today, is simply the failure of the state to lay the necessary economic foundation for the success of the Nigerian enterprise.”

Tinubu called for the laying of the foundation of a new Nigeria that can inspire the confidence of its constituent units.

While bemoaning the recent ethnic/religious crisis in Jos, Tinubu also called for a-three-day fast and prayers session for all residents of Lagos for continued peace, progress, prosperity and stability of Nigeria.

And in Abeokuta, Ogun State Governor Olusegun Osoba yesterday granted amnesty to 12 prisoners in the state. The beneficiaries of the amnesty include those serving three years and above but with six months left to complete their terms.

While granting the remission, Osoba expressed hope that the prisoners would seize the opportunity of their freedom to turn a new leaf.

The governor who urged the prisoners to reintegrate themselves back quickly into the society further charged members of the public to give them (prisoners) every opportunity to see themselves as part of the society.

He further appealed to members of the public to fully embrace the prisoners and give them the needed chance to become useful not only to themselves but to the society at large.

Meanwhile, former Vice President Dr Alex Ekweueme has enjoined the federal government to convocate a platform where all the ethnic nationalities in the country would come together and discuss the future of Nigeria as the nation celebrates her 41st independent anniversary.

“We cannot achieve a Nigerian nation without our voices being heard. We must have a plan for national integration. We have said this times without number that we cannot move forward unless we talk to each other,” Dr Ekwueme stated.

Ekwueme who was speaking at the chairman of the Igbo Day 2001 celebration held at the weekend at the Okpara Square, Enugu advised all Nigerians to work together for a national integration which would bring everybody together to vouch for a new and united Nigeria.

He urged the federal government to create a committee or ministry that would nip in the bud different and incessant ethnic and religious crises in different parts of the country, which according to him, has made Nigeria an unpalatable country for foreign investment.

He regretted that even after 140 years of Nigerian colonialisation and 41 years of independence, Nigeria was still experiencing ethnic and religious conflicts in different parts of the country.

He advised the federal government to recognise the significance of establishing a committee to look into forestalling such conflicts in the country.

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