Nothing wrong in negotiating with criminals –Yusuf Ali

nothing wrong in negotiating with criminals yusuf ali

Yusuf Olaolu Ali (SAN) is one of Nigeria’s most prominent lawyers. In this interview with HENRY AKUBUIRO in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, Principal and Founder of Yusuf O. Ali & Co. is appalled with the management of the security crisis in the country, contending that security should be decentralised in the face of today’s realities. He believes that the Federal Government should explore all avenues, including engaging the bandits, just as he wants President Buhari to be more visible than he is at the moment.

Weeks after President Muhammadu Buhari assured that the abduction of students in Niger State would be the last, kidnapping has continued unabated. Have we lost it?

I have said it before, and I am not tired of saying it: today’s security is more of technology. I remembered when kidnapping was not as prevalent as this, about three years ago, I suggested we should deploy specially equipped drones with cameras and Google map, and that there should be a ground force, a rapid response body, that would have access to helicopters.

With soldiers or policemen?

All of them. And there should be a control centre where the pictures from the drones would be transmitted. Immediately there was a trouble spot, helicopters would be deployed with security personnel to the spot. Secondly, I suggested that we should deploy CCTV strategically, powered by solar energy. For example, in the north, where it has become traditional for bandits to invade schools, there should be CCTV in these schools, because, as humans, there is a limit to where we can get at the same time; but, with the aid of technology, we will go a long way.

Yes, the president meant to help by declaring there would be no more kidnapping —we are told in criminology that criminals are usually one step ahead of the law — so those who are determined to do evil will always look for ways to have their way. We shouldn’t be surprised that kidnapping is still going on, because it didn’t start one day. They also want to show they are ahead of what we thought they were. The former IG witnessed a bombing at the Police Headquarters, Abuja, after he told the nation Boko Haram couldn’t do anything again.

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What’s your assessment of the new security chiefs appointed by the president? Look, this is not about magic. You may change the head or the personnel, but what they need are things to fight the bandits and insurgents. These are basic things, and the morale is very important. People do well when they are motivated, so I want to say we should do better than changing the security chiefs. We must get to the bottom-line. Unfortunately, the kidnapping has continued. Look at what the National Security Adviser said the other day that about 1 billion dollars handed over to the immediate past security chiefs couldn’t be accounted for. So something has to be done about this. The morale, equipment, ammunitions and the enabling environment for the troops in the field have to be taken care of.

Another big security challenge facing the country now is the herdsmen menace, from the North to the South and everywhere. How do we get out of this mess?

What I was talking about deployment of technology applies here. Perpetrators of this evil are not ghosts. They are humans. We must enlist the local people as informants and whistle-blowers. But the security people must command the confidence of the people. Many Nigerians are wary to report intended criminal acts, because they may end up being the accused or suspect. Nigerians don’t have full confidence in the security agencies that, if they are giving information, it will not be leaked to the persons whom the information has been provided on. It’s very important, because, in addition to the deployment of technology, you need human agencies and interactions. You notice Nigerians don’t help accident victims any more, because, if you do, the next thing you are detained. These are serious issues.

Sheik Gumi has been pilloried for acting as a negotiator with bandits. There are also talks about granting bandits amnesty. Do you think this is a step in the right direction?

Let me draw from what Tai Solarin said about education: “If the devil gives me money to fund education, I will take it.” We have a problem. All solutions should be open as long as they don’t involve criminality itself. All options should be explored. In a crisis situation, anybody who has any solution should be assisted. We may not necessarily agree with all the solutions. If we have ten Gumis, you can imagine what we can achieve. For me, we should not be throwing away the baby with the bath water. Some people are disagreeing with giving bandits a soft landing and amnesty. I think we should engage these people, whatever we can do. To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war, as we say in the Nigerian parlance.

If you were in the shoes of President Muhammadu Buhari, what would you do to keep the country back on track?

Unfortunately, I am not Muhammadu Buhari, so I don’t want to fool myself. One of the constraints I have as a citizen is that I do not have the level of information that is available to the president on different issues. Of course, that’s normal. He has several avenues for collecting information, both classified and unclassified. So I am handicapped, and anything I say here will be theoretical. The only thing I will say is that, if I were the president, I would be more visible, which means, at every point, you must hear from me.

The high cost of maintaining the Senate and House of Representatives has been queried by many Nigerians. Can we do with just one?

We should just address wastages. I have listened to a lot of arguments in favour of parliamentary system, but every system of government is expensive. That’s the truth. Number one, there is apparently no reason why a senator should earn more money than the Chief Justice of Nigeria or the Chief Judge of a state. In the First Republic, the Chief Justice of Nigeria was Nigeria’s highest paid officer, earning more than the prime minister. That is the way it is in England. But our own senators earn more than American senators. A poor country like ours! The earnings of these legislators and those in the executive should be relative to the total of our GDP and the minimum wage. Some Nigerians cannot be earning 30, 000 naira per month while some others are earning N3 million per month in the same public service.  I don’t think the issue is much about the National Assembly; it is about whom we are that the average Nigerian takes maximum benefit from the system, notwithstanding what happens to the rest. Except Nigerians wake up properly and stop selling their franchise to the highest bidder, nothing will change.

What’s your take on rotational presidency?

I am not a politician, but I don’t believe in this rotation as a person. Why we have been doing this rotation is because there has been failure of governance. If every government that got there had been doing what it was supposed to do, giving to every section of Nigeria without considering whether you were south, north, east or west, Nigerians wouldn’t mind if successive presidents come from the same family. 

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