A former Assistant Comptroller General of Customs, Senator Francis Fadahunsi, who is also the vice chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariffs, tells FEMI MAKINDE that proliferation of small arms is a big threat to Nigeria’s existence, among other issues
Do you agree that the proliferation of small arms and light weapons is a major factor responsible for the lingering problems of terrorism, banditry and kidnapping in the country?
It is a factor. But if you remember, former President Olusegun Obasanjo formed a committee to address this issue of arms proliferation. The committee was headed by Justice Emmanuel Ayoola and I was a member of the committee. We went round the whole country; we visited all the borders to see things for ourselves. We identified causes of the proliferation of small arms to be politics of bitterness, religion, economy and youth unemployment. It was after that task that Justice Ayoola was appointed the chairman of ICPC. What really made the situation very bad is the porosity of our borders. People can come into the country anyhow and this one encourages criminals coming from Libya, Sudan, Chad and Cameroon. There was war in some of these places at one point or the other. Criminals come into Nigeria from Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) through the waters. Supply of arms comes from all these places and it has become a monster. This problem became aggravated with the internal combustion in the country and Boko Haram problem came. We thought Boko Haram would fizzle away but you can see where we are now. Unfortunately, now we have the problem of El-Zakzaky and his members are everywhere- they are in the military, civil service, police and everywhere. Those ones are more sophisticated than the Boko Haram which we are dealing with since.
With this, don’t you think the country will face another serious crisis if he dies in detention?
The Boko Haram leader, Yusuf Mohammed, was killed in police custody and everybody can see the effect of that. We haven’t been able to defeat his followers since then. You know we have professors who are members of the sect which El-Zakzaky leads; they have many intellectuals and one thing about them is that they don’t run away. Did you see their protests? They do not run away from law enforcement agents; they have so much conviction in their faith. But instead of releasing him ( El-Zakzaky) to go home, they are still holding on to him. It is dangerous.
What other factor do you think is fuelling terrorism?
Abundant supply of jobless youths is another factor. Many youths are frustrated as a result of unemployment, they do not have anything to show for their existence and that is why they are angry. And as the leaders do not allow them to live well, they are ready to take up arms. They are ready to kill and to be killed. So, if you send them back to their creator, they are ready. That is why you see some youths; any arm they can lay their hands on, they use it to terrorise their neighbours and that is why there is kidnapping everywhere. It is ventilation of aggression.
There is even another problem of the deserters, those dismissed or retired compulsorily from the military. They are thousands and some of them went away with their guns and they use the weapons for crime. The leaders have eaten so much and they can barely walk let alone run after anyone who has gone away with the service rifle. My lecturers back then called the Nigerian Army, Salvation Army. The late Dr Onipede called them Salvation Army as far back as 1976 because they cannot hurt a fly. We have been running after Boko Haram for a decade now and we have not won the war. What do you think will happen if we have a problem from a small country like the Republic of Benin? We cannot overrun them.
The insecurity is so bad now in the country and I know we are sitting on guns. It will be disastrous if something is not done urgently to address this problem. If you go to the East, arms come in through the waters freely. In Lagos, the same thing is going on; weapons come in through the waters. The kind of weapons around the Alaba Market is huge. If you look at what has been happening in Benue, the people there went to look for arms to protect themselves when government security agencies failed them. The same thing happened in Taraba; it came to the South-West also. When kidnapping and killings became so much, the people of the South-West had to look for weapons to defend themselves; and those arms were accumulated by some people.
How can the problem of small arms be addressed?
Amnesty was organised for the Niger Delta militants some years back, I don’t know if the government will consider this to reduce the illegal arms in circulation. It could be done in all the states. There must be the provision of jobs to discourage the youth from going into crime. Without jobs for them to do, they will be involved in criminal activities and there is nothing anybody can do about that. The security situation in the country is serious and something must be done to tackle it. The Boko Haram insurgents have become so daring and we seem not to have an answer to that problem as a nation.
The dead wood generals in the military have been there for almost six years and they are bereft of fresh ideas. Now the border has been closed; the boys can no longer go in or come out, and the boys have to survive and that is why crime is on the increase now.
Are there no benefits in the border closure for the country?
Go and look at the figure of the duties they were collecting before the border closure, it was higher than what they collect now. Don’t let anybody deceive you. You don’t just make a noise anyhow, the old regime is better. Using force is not the best way to collect revenue. Revenue should be better paid voluntarily, and using force is not the best way.
Customs officers raid rice shops and auto dealers’ shops. Is this the best way to do the job?
This is a result of system failure. They allowed those people to smuggle those items into the country and now they are going round to raid their shops, it is wrong. They are already inside the country and what they should do is to encourage them to come and pay. I tell you, they will come and pay. I told the Comptroller General of Customs, Col. Hammed Ali (retd.), that his border management is poor. You don’t need to carry guns and start running after those people who have settled your boys. It is wrong, they paid bribes to the boys at the border and they are still running after them now. The border management is poor and it has failed. The same failure is seen at the ports and that is the cause of port congestion.
So, how can the port be decongested?
The first thing is that other ports should be put to use. Why are we not using Port Harcourt Port? Why are we not using Warri Port? They should open up other ports. They started using Calabar Port when I made an issue out of it with Ali. To clear a vehicle at the port in Lagos, it may take a year if care is not taken. So, to decongest, let other ports be used. This will even decongest the roads and the accident rate will reduce.
Will the African Continental Free Trade Area be beneficial to Nigeria?
There was a time we had West African Trade Agreement by ECOWAS. Did we make anything out of that? We are importing furniture now when we have the raw materials for furniture in abundance. Nigeria is dying gradually. There are supposed to be textile industries in at least each of the zones; we should have shoe factories also and other small scale industries all over. Instead of these, we have massive importation of foreign goods all over. Without making efforts to produce these things by ourselves, Nigeria will never grow; but the solution is not to shut down the borders the way they are doing now. If we have not done anything meaningful with the ECOWAS agreement are we sure we will take advantage of the ACFTA?
What do you think of the N37bn earmarked for the renovation of the National Assembly?
The renovation of the National Assembly complex is the duty of the Federal Capital Territory and not the lawmakers’. All the public buildings in Abuja are owned by the FCT. When you are inside the National Assembly, you will know that the place needs renovation. When you are coming to the National Assembly, you will see very many buildings on the left and I think journalists should be taken round the place for you to see things. When journalists see the magnitude of work there, I believe they will know the magnitude of the issue. But we shouldn’t allow the buildings to collapse. People have a kind of notion on anything concerning members of the National Assembly. But the ministers did not campaign before they were appointed, but if you see their offices and vehicles, you will be amazed. Members of the National Assembly are given one SUV for four years but ministers have fleets of cars, see the budgets they bring. The permanent secretaries also live largely but nobody says anything, the directors general of parastatals control so much money.
What is your view about power privatisation?
The oil industry and power sector are full of rots. The lifestyles of the DGs are strange. Mr President must do something urgent about this sector, otherwise, we are not going forward. When electricity was being transmitted by the National Electric Power Authority they were generating 4,000 megawatts but now that the government has spent trillions of naira on what was bought by private companies, they are generating 3,500megawatts. Are we going back or forward? I think we need to do something about those that should be appointed as ministers. I think those who campaigned and know the problems of the people should be the ones and not just anybody. Somebody who just came back from the London School of Economics and is appointed does not know the problems of the people. We need competent professionals who know the problems of the people to be in charge. If the problems of power, unemployment and insecurity we are facing as a nation are not addressed urgently and with wisdom, the youth will continue to wage war and that may be the end of Nigeria.
You condemned the border management system of the present CG of Customs (cuts in)
A competent professional should be in charge. Soldiers are not trained to generate revenue. They are trained to buy ammunition and to kill. This man met more that 30,000 personnel in the NCS and today they are not more than 15,000 left, he has sacked all of them.
But he seems to be good for the system. Or is he not?
If you see the fraud in the Customs now, you will be shocked. But nobody must talk. They make noise to cover this up but if you go into their books, you will be surprised. Customs headquarters was awarded for N2.7bn then but today the project is going to about N30bn. The project has not been completed but the furniture contract for the uncompleted building has been awarded. Who is fooling who? If Mr President sees what the man is doing, he will run out of the country.
That is why I am saying that Mr President should put a technical person from Customs there; if not, the man will run the place aground. The CG wants to recruit 3,200 persons and he paid N1.6bn to a consultant to recruit 3,200 persons. The money is not for training but to just recruit them. I asked him if the Nigerian Army ever used consultants to recruit personnel and he said no. He said Customs officers are corrupt and he is bringing in a consultant to recruit 3,200 persons and he will pay the firm N1.6bn. Are you recruiting five million people? The N1.6bn is even in the budget and that is one of the reasons the budget was being queried by the leadership of the Senate.
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