Terror sponsors can’t hide for too long – Maku

Says Nigeria doesn’t have weak leader

Mr. Labaran Maku sure knows his onion as the Jonathan administration’s chief spokesperson. The Information Minister passes as an encyclopaedia on the activities of the Federal Government. In a session in Lagos, Maku spoke on the insecurity challenge dogging the Federal Government and the achievements of the administration. Sunday Vanguard’s Jide Ajani was there. Excerpts:

labaran Maku - Terror sponsors can’t hide for too long – Maku
Labaran Maku

May 29 was the third anniversary of the Jonathan administration. It seems there is not so much to talk about in view of the security situation in the country. What can you say has been achieved in spite of Chibok?

There is a correlation between the exposure of the development efforts received in the media and insecurity in the northern part of the country. What has happened in the last three years particularly is that terrorism has taken the front pages and the prime time news from development and social issues in the country and that is why, most of the time, I have continued to insist that the media should have a change of strategy.

I would not say change of attitude because, with terrorism, once it takes hold, it takes quite a while for it to be dealt with and, because terrorists themselves are looking for opportunities to sell their ideology, to use the media to frighten society, to give themselves some invincible image, they keep doing those strikes mainly because they want headlines to be celebrated, they want society to be afraid, they want to divide society across public opinions.

So I believe the media should, side-by-side while reporting incidents of terror attacks unfortunately where they occur, must focus on development, on deepening our democracy; that is the only way we can defeat terror. The day we allow development to lose out in favour of terrorism, they have laid the foundation to defeat the democratic enterprise. They want to show that our democracy cannot endure so we must make sure we focus attention on development while reporting incidents of terror.

Even in reporting, it is my belief that we give it too much exposure, too much outlandish headlines. Yes, if there is a strike and people are dead, you would not say the media should not report it, but when you look at some of the situations that we have had in recent times on weekly basis, the front page, the headlines, the lead stories are often all about terror. In fact, after the last blast in Abuja, I made the allusion to the fact that it appears that whenever there is any landmark achieved by this government, bombs must follow and I have been trying to make the connection.

I give you an example, immediately we rebased our economy and it was told that Nigeria now has the largest economy in Africa, there were bomb blasts at Chibok. Immediately they learned that we were going to host the World Economic Forum, there were blasts in Abuja and environs to make sure that Nigeria did not get the economic benefit of hosting the Forum, and to discourage the world from coming here and make the attacks the centre point of international and local media so that the exposure the Forum was supposed to give to the Nigerian economy and investment opportunities would be lost.

You will also notice that immediately after the Ekiti election (adjudged free and fair and won by the ruling PDP), bombs started raining again. So I can tell you that almost every milestone that has been recorded by this government is accompanied by bomb blasts, by terror attacks.

So why is this correlation between the attacks and development efforts?

The idea is to make sure that there is no development, the idea is to present government as doing nothing, the idea is to take away attention from the things that will develop the country to work, and to destroy the democratic process. Just imagine after 911, if Osama bin Laden did not get the exposure he got, most people in Asia and Africa may not have gotten to know much about him, but every time anything happened after 911, Osama bin Laden was always on the front page or on prime time international networks.

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If you look at the way Shekau and co dress today, they mimic what they see on CNN, BBC, SkyNews and Aljazeera. Everybody mimics bin Laden because, to them, he was an international icon, a role model for terrorists and all that was sold to the world by the media in the West. I think we must come together to agree on freedom of expression, freedom to media exposure.

Are we under obligation, even though our profession said that everybody must be given the opportunity to express himself; does that opportunity include those who want to destroy society, who want to sell very dangerous ideas for the destruction of society? The point of my intervention is that the distraction of terrorism aside, our democracy, in the last 15 years, has recorded landmarks, which I believe this country should begin to focus on and deepen and develop.

This is the first time in our history that we have been able to run a democratic government for up to 15 years. The First Republic lasted for seven years, from 1960 to 1966; the Second Republic lasted four years, three months. The Third Republic was stillborn. This is the first time Nigeria has been able to run a democratic government for this period of time. What have we learnt from this experience? What we have learnt from it is that power has been demystified.

If before those in power thought it was going to be permanent, today, after 15 years, you are seeing former governors on the street, you are seeing your former president who was so powerful on the street. Today he goes without siren, with one or two people escorting him, so he looks normal. Now, that demystification of power is making every Nigerian citizen to know that power is temporary. You may be elected today or appointed, what is now clear is that if you don’t do well; tomorrow, you are going to join the people. The idea that power is temporary has sunk in our public imagination. That’s a very big plus.

Secondly, there has been stability in governance. People go in, you know the entry point and you know the exit. If you look at development programmes from 1999 to now, take say Universal Basic Education across the country, because government has endured for this period of time, if you look at the reforms in public primary schools, under the military, for example, almost every year, you had interminable teachers’ strikes because nobody was paying them. I was caught up when I was a teacher in the Second Republic, six months no salaries. From 1999 to now, there have been lots of reforms in primary education.

Competition between states

Assuming democracy continues like this, let’s say for another 15 years, the implication is that our schools will return to what they were in the 60s and 70s. The quality will improve because a lot of money is also going to teacher training and then there will be competition between states, normalcy will return to primary education and secondary education. Once we get that done, the quality of tertiary education will improve.

The problem we have had in tertiary education is because of the raw materials that come from primary and secondary schools. Every nation knows that once you get primary and secondary education right, tertiary education is cheap. We had a lot of changes in our system mostly brought about by military rule. Now the stability we have seen in the educational system, even this year, if you look at WAEC and NECO performances, they have been improving significantly across the country. We used to have less than 30%, today, we have something in the region of almost 60% in terms of those who get five credits at a sitting in WAEC and NECO. That is a huge improvement.

If you look at tertiary education, go to any university today, what the Tertiary Education Trust Fund is doing in terms of provision of infrastructure is huge. I am just taking education as an example of where a lot of achievements have been made.

If you look at our roads today, we still have a lot of gaps in the sector. The {Lagos} International Airport Road has been given out. So the potholes will not endure for long. But if you look at the roads overall, let’s say the Benin-Ore Road that was almost abandoned, if you go there today, you will see a road you will be proud of. If you take Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, we are doing it now, all the funding is done for the three sections, with different reputable contractors.

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May be, in another two or three years, you are going to see a different road. In 2012, we delivered 32 roads in the country. The greatest story in the works and transport sector has been the revival of the railway. When President Jonathan came to power, no train was moving in Nigeria. The most important story here is that most of the cement and heavy duty equipment being transported between the South-West, North-Central and North-West is done now by the rail; even, sometimes, when you have problems with our refineries, crude will go by rail.

We have dredged the River Niger from Warri through Onitsha, through Lokoja up to Baro. In addition to roads and railway, we are introducing inland river transportation in Nigeria for the first time and all these put together in the last four years are huge investment in the future of our country. In the power sector where I think in terms of the quantum of intervention, much more work has been done than may be most sectors of the economy.

10 power plants

10 power plants built in four years is a record. What we are doing now is to connect them with gas and then hand over to the private sector to manage. If the next government does another 10 and other government does another 10 and we continue like that; the problem with power is the lack of stability in government because so long as governments are unstable, without predictable tenure, without long plan, you cannot develop a society and that’s the difference between the democracies of the West and us. They have long stretch of political stability, democratic processes and institutions stretched over a hundreds of years that’s why they are ahead of us.

When you hear Innoson manufacturing new vehicles, those vehicles are manufactured with government support. The Bank of Industry is the one supporting Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing at Nnewi, it is supporting Innoson Technical in Enugu where plastics of all dimensions and standards and qualities are manufactured for export and for the domestic market. The new Auto Policy is making it compulsory for big car manufacturing giants to set up plants in Nigeria.

If they don’t, they are going to lose the market in the next couple of years. Today Nigeria has moved from the backwaters into the number one economy, receiving the highest level of investments. If we put all these together and you add to the telecom revolution in the last 12 years, then you see that Nigeria has made a lot of progress under our democracy and we are proud to say that, yes, we are not even where we should be, yet we could do more and we would do more but in terms of development, I think it is important that the media must help this nation to know that a lot of work is going on. I have not mentioned agriculture, health, aviation. Even if you are blind, you visit Nigerian airports today, you will know that work has been done in the last four years, you will be proud.
I have not spoken about the comprehensive management of the economy. You would notice that when the banks collapsed, the mortgage crisis took place in the United States and the banks and economies of several countries collapsed, Nigeria attained stability. Our Stock Market crashed in 2008, today it has been completely revived. The micro-economic management of the economy has improved and, today, there is a lot of confidence in the Nigerian economy in spite of the violence in the North-East.

When you talk about the issue of media reporting and seemingly celebrating violence occasioned by the activities of insurgents, the question to ask is, what is the counter narrative to ensure that this terrorism is put on the back burner? Secondly, I am sure you agree about the perception that the Presidency is lethargic. How do you respond to that view because it’s very critical and, like you observed, people seem to even want to insult the Presidency and the President more than even the entire Federal Government of Nigeria. How do you think the media can handle that and, coming from your perspective, what issues do you need to relate to, to dampen that type of perception?

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First of all, I have been at the Ministry of Information and Ministry of Defence temporarily; so I am in a position to know, to speak with some level of understanding about the nature of terrorism. I have, through the instrumentality of the Ministry of Information, tried to present terrorism, first of all, as a global phenomenon that has reached our borders and that it has exploited certain weaknesses within our polity-the weaknesses of political violence sometimes at the local level-where sometimes politicians think the best way to defeat their opponents is to establish youth groups, arm them and use them against their opponents.

Some of them outgrow their sponsors and become a societal problem. Every problem that you see that has developed at the national level started at the local level, it was not tackled by those responsible at that level until it becomes a national headache. I have also tried to explain to the media consistently that with terror, it’s not about the supposed threat, firepower of the military because terror is different from conventional war; terror is different from the wars that soldiers were trained to fight and, all over the world, the armies of every country are beginning to see that these guys are small in number but they are difficult to fish out because they are employing the tactics of urban and rural guerrilla warfare and ,whenever you have a guerrilla war, it is no longer the issue of the strength of the army.

The army capacity

I know that our army has the capacity to destroy Boko Haram in 30 minutes, if they are to come out.
Whether we are in the media or politics and so on, we will come to a common understanding. For some time, that hasn’t happened, and that is why we saw a state governor making a proclamation that government is committing genocide in the North. When that kind of thing happens, what does he do? He divides public opinion and makes the terrorists look as if they have a legitimate cause to defend the North against the South.

For a state governor to say that, normally it is impossible for anybody to say that when you are facing a collective war. Why did I say this? The Minister of Defence is from the North, the National Security Adviser is from the North, the Inspector General of Police is from the North.

It took us a long time to intervene in the North-East because people said it was not a military thing. At a point, they said the President should withdraw the troops. He said what is the alternative? There was no alternative. It is the partisan angle to this matter that has further created the opportunity for recruitment and the opportunity for local sympathy.

However, there are still politicians that do support them. I am not in the position to know whether they are helping them with resources or weapons but their comments give a lot of encouragement to them and I think that psychological encouragement to terror is as harmful as funding them. It gives them the confidence to endure. At a point, even in the military, there was confusion. Some will think that the terror will be away in the next one month. It gave the wrong impression. You cannot give a deadline to terror because you don’t know where they are.
There is this perception, people just look at the President and say he is weak, he is not doing anything. It’s a perception issue. You are the person in charge of managing information, how do you feel when people say such things?

The President is not a weak leader but he is a democratic leader and he is the first democratic leader that we have had in my own sincere opinion since Shehu Shagari; the only one that came in between was Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua. He lived too short for us to know what character his regime would have assumed.

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Democratic via voting or personality?

Democratic in terms of orientation, in terms of perception, in terms of principle, in terms of due process, in terms of allowing national institutions to work rather than personalities to run across the table and beat their chest. We have been so much used to military rule that the psyche of the Nigerian is that a leader must be on a horse back with a horse whip and, if possible, he steps down and whip people into line or get the WAI Brigade to line up people on the street and say this is what must be done.

But this President is a civilian, he is a scholar, he is a calm person, he is deliberate. To me, no leader is perfect, every leader has weak points but what I see in this leader, in the personality and character of President Goodluck Jonathan is that of a man who is deliberate and knows what he is doing. He has his focus on changing the Nigerian economic story.

Secondly, he knows that change will not come overnight, many people will not get used to it. He has the patience to suffer the attacks without ruffling feathers and that has helped him to remain focused while his opponents think he is weak. He is not weak; Jonathan is very strong and tough. Look at his democratic reforms, elections are getting better. Nigerians are coming to accept the principle of free election. The other point that makes the President to look weak in quote is that he is the first President to allow national institutions to work.

Today, the National Assembly is far freer than it used to be. The Judiciary has also come of age. The President often jokes that if he were to exercise 60% of his powers as written in the Constitution, he would be far more dictatorial than any military ruler that has ruled this nation before, but that as a leader, his duty is to allow institutions to flourish after decades of destruction.

When you say a man is weak, look at the way he has run his diplomacy. If you look at the Nigerian diplomacy in the last four years, for the first time you will see that wherever Nigerians are under threat, they are taken home. When you say leader is weak, maybe you believe he runs away from problems.

He sets up too many committees.

Every government sets up committees to shed more light on problems, but, definitely, this President, from all the records, from what is going on, from what is falling in, is a strong but democratic leader.

To tackle terrorism, you must tackle the source of funding and we see this in other countries. Let’s take US as example. After 911, the Patriot Act came and they have used that Act to sanction banks, companies, shipping lines, and individuals that have connections with terrorist organisations. In Nigeria, we have been battling Boko Haram insurgency for the past couple of years and we have not heard of any major sponsor of these groups being arrested, we have not heard of any big name. We have only been seeing foot soldiers.

Is it that our intelligence gathering is poor? Is it that government does not have the will to go after the sponsors? Shekau is there, but somebody is providing the funds for all the arms and all that. Why is it that it has been difficult for government to actually go after the big fish? The second one is Chibok. It’s about 100 days now since these girls were kidnapped; we have been hearing comments from government that they know the location where these girls are kept.

The latest one was that they are getting nearer to rescuing them. When are we going to get these girls back? Sponsors of terrorism-unless you put your finger right on it -if you just make a wild allegation, it can generate a lot of problems in the polity. We suspected there might be some big time support, but investigations continue until we put our finger and hold some people that we are sure of otherwise it can do a lot of damage to the system.

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But if you look at the funding process, Boko Haram used to organise robberies and they took a lot of money from the banks. Initially people did not know the connection between those bank robberies and Boko Haram. Today, they take cattle from poor grazers, sell them and use them to buy weapons. What government would not want to do is to say, for political reasons, because you go and announce that A,B,C,D and, in the end, if you do not have watertight evidence, it is better not to accuse people.

But is government getting closer to that?

I don’t want to make a statement that gives the impression of that because what you want hear is, ‘government is getting closer to the funders of Boko Haram’. What we are saying is that investigations are going on. Sometimes you just stumble on a fact that you didn’t even prepare for it and it becomes an issue. But there is nothing hidden under the sun. People can use all forms of alibi and channels but they will be exposed. We need patience so that we do not rush and make conclusions that will create problem for the system because it’s terrible to accuse somebody on a weighty problem like this if you do not have 100% assurance that your evidence is true.

On Chibok, there is nothing as so difficult for us as a government, as parents, as public officers. It’s one of the most traumatic experiences that we have had in this government. I can tell you that a lot of contacts are made every day but we believe that those girls are not being kept in one place, we are sure they have separated into small groups and taken to unsuspecting areas. That is why when people talk about Sambisa, they may not even be there. We are doing everything in terms of surveillance.

The second point is that because we are dealing with a wild, murderous group, you don’t want to put the lives of the girls at risk by just doing braggadocios. The most horrendous thing will be that these girls are killed. It will be so difficult to accept and explain to the public. We need to be extremely careful even when we have a lead to make sure that it leads to the girls’ safe rescue and not to their death after the trauma of several months.

One of the star projects of Jonathan is the National Conference. There are issues. The delegates have come to a consensus on a number of issues but, out there, people think the conference is a jamboree because it was not meant to impact the polity. What exactly would the conference have achieved by the time it winds up and a report is submitted. What does the Federal Government do with the outcome of the conference?

If you heard the President speak at the inauguration of the conference, the goals and objectives were clearly stated. The conference is aimed at discussing those fundamental issues in the polity and proffering solutions, which most likely will end up in constitutional reforms. Let’s be patient and see.

We are all patient. I am asking because the undercurrent is that the conference is standing on nothing.

It is standing on the authority of the President who, as the elected leader of Nigeria, has one of the singular duties of setting agenda for the nation, initiating reforms. So the conference is standing on solid constitutional pedestal.

In addition, after the conference is completed, it is expected that the report will go to the National Assembly for constitutional reforms to give Nigeria a more stable democratic enterprise. There are controversial issues such as will not be avoided in a conference of that nature but I think putting the controversy side-by-side with the positive things that have happened there, you will agree that it is well grounded.

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