Maj. Gen. Zamani Lekwot, the founder of Southern Kaduna Elders Forum, retired from the army in 1985. Following the violence that erupted between Muslims and Christians in Zango-Kataf Local Government Area of Kaduna State in 1992 with many deaths, a tribunal set up by the General Ibrahim Babangida administration sentenced Lekwot and 16 others to death for alleged complicity in the Southern Kaduna killings.
The sentences were eventually reduced to a short incarceration, and he received a state pardon in December 1995.
Recently, following continued killings in Southern Kaduna, there was a call by the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria that Lekwot be executed as failure to execute him earlier created a problem. The council said the only way for peace to reign in Southern Kaduna is for government to execute Lekwot and other leaders sentenced to death over the Zango-Kataf riot in 1992.
The SCSN’s Secretary, AbdulRahman Hassan said government’s failure to execute Lekwot and others sentenced to death over the 1992 riot was responsible for the persistent attacks in Southern Kaduna. In this encounter, Major General Lekwot answers questions on the problems in southern Kaduna and proffers solutions.
There was a call by the Supreme Council for Shariah in Nigeria that you be executed as failure to execute you earlier has created a problem.
I am not afraid of death. My life is in God’s hand. What those people are saying is a smokescreen. They are hiding the truth. What kind of religious leader instead of preaching peace and love is preaching death? What happened in 1992 has been resolved and that was about Zango-Kataf. What is happening now is killings in Southern Kaduna and instead of proffering solutions, you are talking about what happened 28 years ago
I am a senior citizen of this country. I have served this country and I’m now retired and I’m supposed to be resting. The people who are killing Southern Kaduna people are foreigners who come in and go. Who are they and who are aiding them? I am a responsible man and a retired soldier.
They should face the problem and tackle it head-on instead of trying to divert attention because that is what they are trying to do and no responsible religious leader should leave peace and love and preaching death and more killings after the carnage happening in Southern Kaduna which has nothing to do with me. I have no hand in it. I never had. My place is several kilometres away from where the killings are happening. Zango-Kataf is done with and resolved. What has the present got to do with the past? But like I said, I am not afraid. My life is in God’s hand.
Your group issued a statement the other day, is it different from what is going on?
The statement was an appeal to Mr. President to intervene on a more effective way in order to stem the tide of the killings that were spreading. The Inspector General of Police announced something because our appeal also requested for a kind of intervention in terms of reinforcements in men and resources as there were killings in other parts of the country, like Katsina, Zamfara and because it appears as if the troops and other security people were very few and that was why they could not enforce the curfew.
So, following the IGP’s announcement that they are sending more people to the ground and last night (Thursday), the army PRO announced the sending of special forces there in order to arrest the situation, we should just watch and see.
The killings have remained unabated despite anything that was said
Your surprise is shared by many people. It is very disappointing because the villagers and the herders have lived together in a symbiotic way for many decades. All of a sudden, things changed and the government themselves confessed that they were armed foreign invaders. In addition to the attack on local communities; burning their houses and killing many, some of them also rustled the local herders’ cattle.
So, since the government has identified the problem, they should take the next step forward to arrest the situation. As you know, identification of a problem is 50 per cent solution. So, we are hoping that by sending more troops and security to the ground, something more drastic will be done.
Was the President right when he suggested they were revenge killings?
Revenge killings? How? The killings have been perpetrated by these bandits who are foreign to the ground. Revenge killings on that scale? Many houses burnt, innocent women, children, aged, killed? The survivors are languishing in IDPs, suffering there without government support. Well, I believe some people are hiding the truth.
In Nigeria today, many communities have vigilante groups. Don’t they have such groups in those areas?
Vigilantes are youths who are not trained and armed. They only carry whistles. Their job is to detect strange people and report and that takes time and then these bandits raid the communities in the middle of the night when people are sleeping. So, the solution is for the government to flush these people out.
Does that mean they are living in the community?
No, they are not living in the community. They come, kill and go away. If they live in the community, the community members will know them. And the scale of the killings shows that these are not local people. They are foreigners and are armed to the teeth. So, the question is: how did they get into this country so heavily armed and undetected? The government has some questions to answer. Also, you know, it is happening not only in southern Kaduna, it is happening all over Nigeria. Why should it be so? We were living in peace.
Where are those people who were displaced now?
They are in IDPs now. You can see we are in our own area and this is happening in the whole country. August is the peak of the rainy season. These villages have been invaded, many houses burned down, the surviving villagers have been driven from their villages to the IDPs and that means they cannot attend to their farms. You know what that means in terms of their food chain. Government aid has not come to them.
The people helping them are private organizations. We have not seen anything from the Kaduna State government and they say very little except to try to talk about revenge killings. If you have identified the problem, then when are you going to do something about it? These massive attacks are a strange phenomena. You need to visit some of the villages and see the mass destruction. We are in the rainy season and as some of these villages are burned down, what will these villagers do? The timing and the style are all questionable. These are ruthless people. Where did they come from? That is why the government has a duty to find out and address.
Many people are also saying that land is central to the killings. That it is all about land…
No, that one is hocus pocus. Do you know why? In my area, they are not short of land. If anybody needs land for anything, he will be given. There is no shortage of space in my place. When they say land is the reason, does that explain the massive killings of villagers and the burning of houses? Sometimes, in burning of the villages, they burn the corpses of the victims. Pregnant women are molested. The killings are so spiteful. Something is wrong.
What then could be the issue? What do those people want?
I don’t know. They haven’t told anybody. If they had come out to say what they want, people can talk. Yesterday (Wednesday) and the days before, 14 people were killed in Niger State. Is that one land dispute also? You name other states too: Plateau, Taraba, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Benue. They have even dabbled into the southern states. So, instead of playing with words, government has the duty to do the needful because protection of citizens in every sense of the word is the duty of the government.
The other day, the President was quoted to have said that COVID-19 and lack of funds is the reason security agents cannot do what they are supposed to do…
COVID-19 started in March and these killings have been going on in different parts of the country. Yes,COVID-19 has thrown spanner in the works but what happened before? We have a duty to secure our country’s borders. Why do foreigners come in, armed to the teeth and start killing citizens with impunity?
What is happening here cannot happen in any of the neighbouring countries because their borders are jealously guarded. Why not ours and I hear people quoting ECOWAS protocol that allows freedom of movement. Does it include arms and smuggled items? The world is laughing at us. What kind of country are we? Look at it.
The roads are not safe. Villages and rural areas are not safe. Cities are not safe. Bandits and kidnappers are attacking. What is happening?
On the state of the nation, some are saying that when the country is restructured, different zones should be able to take care of themselves. What is your take?
As a member of the 2014 national conference, one of the recommendations of the report was restructuring the country. The first item on that issue could be security. We recommended the creation of local government and state police. If we have local government police in place and they are well equipped, they will be able to handle these security threats at the grassroots.
Instead of that, some people prefer the centralized police system and this country is very large. Even at that, the Nigerian police force has problems: shortage of manpower and equipment, and because of the insecurity, no time to train. So, restructuring the country is the way out and after doing so, you handle the economic and political aspect.
The first coup of 1966 is all the reason they centralized everything. For us to get out of the woods, the review of the structure is necessary so that if that is ideal, job opportunities will be created for the youths.
There are so many youths without jobs. When that is done, that gap will be filled. And in terms of the economic aspect, at the moment the Federal Government takes the lion share of the revenue. We recommended that more should go to the state and a fraction should go to the local government so that at the same time, so many things can happen.
Take for instance; the federal routes in the state are dilapidated. Some state governors use their own resources to maintain them and then claim from the government. As other people have said, defence, external affairs, internal affairs and a few other exclusive roles should be handled by the federal government, then the state should be given the mandate to rank their affairs, within the constitution of course. So many things can be taking place simultaneously, each state according to the peculiarities of its environment.
Many people have suggested to the President to sack service chiefs and appoint new ones. Do you think it can help in any way?
As a professional, what I know is that service chiefs are appointed to serve for three years. When they complete their term, they can retire but in a war situation, it can extend up to a point. When Mr. President has not done it, only he can answer that question.
The biggest disadvantage in the elongation of the service chiefs tenure is the frustration it places on those in the junior ranks who hope to move up before their retirement comes. So, unless an office is vacated, the aspiring junior staff cannot move forward. Some will have to retire prematurely and that can affect morale.
There is even an allegation that many soldiers are resigning.
Well, I also read about that. I have never heard of such in my professional life. Soldiers resigning in protest against what? This is the time we need them to defend the country, to restore peace and stability. So, if instead of serving, they are resigning, this is a sign that all is not well. So, the powers that be should investigate and rectify.
Many people think that the President is being manipulated by certain forces and that is why he is not doing enough because they are giving him false reports about what is happening in the country.
Mr. President also has the power to consult experts outside the government. For example, we have senior generals in retirement, many of whom are his colleagues and are ever ready to offer advice. So, why is that not being done? As to the issue of him being manipulated, I cannot tell because I have no access to the corridor of power.
Generally, how would you sum up the Nigerian situation under the watch of this current government? How would you assess this government?
The government came into office, promising to address security, to improve the economy and create jobs for the unemployed. Everybody is an eyewitness to what is happening. Sometimes, when issues arise, government offers explanation, like addressing the issue or having a solution. So there is a difference between what the government says and what is happening. So that too, requires investigation.
We are in democracy now, do you think that the National Assembly, which is the representative of the people all over, in doing what it ought to be doing?
In some areas, the answer is yes. In some other areas, the answer is no. In some areas, I can see them working in their oversight functions. In one area in particular, there is bitter bickering among them. They are there to serve. They are supposed to be distinguished people or honourables. So whatever the heat of the issue is, say your own and I say my own is the thing. We have seen some of them changing parties.
Part of the major problem is lack of strong political institutions. In Europe, in America, how many times do you see politicians cross-carpeting? Committed party men are sworn true members of their party and they will do anything to make the party succeed. Even when things come to a head and they have to sacrifice for the party, they do. What is happening is a graphic demonstration of what the political culture of our people is. They shout democracy on the pages of the newspapers but what they do is anything but democracy and of course, the fault lies with the electorate.
Only an enlightened electorate can put their political class in their rightful places. As long as the electorate continue to sleep, we don’t know what we are doing.
That is why they are doing what they are doing. I must also add that some of them are not guilty of what we are saying. Some of them are responsible members, but in the Nigerian system, the few who are right are swallowed by the majority who are not so right and they keep quiet because of the principle of “if you cannot beat them, join them” and in the end, it is the electorate that suffer. But I hope that it is a passing and learning phase. Things have to improve for the country to move forward.
What is the governor of Kaduna State doing about what is going on? Is he doing enough?
As I have said, the villagers that have been displaced from their villages are languishing in the IDPs. He has not done enough to assuage their anguish. Two, has he visited any of them? I am yet to see it. And then, we hear slogans describing what is going on. What people expect is a solution to the problem. Where he cannot cope, he will appeal to the Southern Kaduna elders, appealing to the President to intervene effectively.
Last night, I saw on the television the army spokesman announcing that Special Forces have been sent to the place. So, we want the bandits expelled not only from Southern Kaduna but also from other parts of the country so that we can continue to live in peace with our neighbours as before.
In history, then, we used to hear of monolithic North. Does still exist?
The North as it was during the late Sarduana’s time is no more. We now have states that have been grouped into zones. To the North, we have three zones. So, people who talk of monolithic North are talking politics. They are describing a political constituency in which they can stand for election and win. But we now have states.
From the way you described it, it seems like states help in dividing places and people.
No, the creation of states in 1967 has become a blessing to the country. Why? States have helped become vehicles for rapid development. We had provinces before. Most of the state capitals today, except for the regional capitals and the federal capital of Lagos, were provincial capitals. Take Jos, take Minna, take Abakaliki or take Benin. Those were provincial capitals. Now, some of the state capitals are blooming cities because of the blessing of state creation. Look, when Nigeria had regions, the whole North was ran from Kaduna.
From Kaduna to Maidughuri is very far. From Kaduna to Sokoto is very far. From Kaduna to Ilorin or Otukpo is very far. At that time, the roads were dusty. So, creation of states has created competition among the groups. Awka is now a bigger metropolis because it is now hosting a state capital.
I know Owerri very well because I was DOC in Enugu. Before Imo State was created, Owerri was not as large as it is now. So, state creation in a complex federation like Nigeria is what we need and I want to tell you from my experience. One of the largest federations in the world is India. It has states and the federating units. Every state has its own police force and their system is working. There are about 1.3 billion people. You can’t go there and see any tension at all. Every state is running its system and of course, there is something they contribute to the central government.
So, we are a huge country with huge problems and different diversities. Putting everybody in one basket would have been a problem. So, creation of states makes a lot of sense. By the way, the system we are running is not the problem. It is the mentality of the people who run it. We have to be disciplined.
We have to show more patriotism but what we see in the political terrain is the pursuit of personal agenda. What happens to the country doesn’t bother many of them. The dishonest ones use either tribalism or religion to win election. Once they get there, they forget everybody. So, we have to put God first, Nigeria second, then our individual interests next. There must be a credible platform on which everybody can pursue happiness with the blessing of God.
Source: Vanguard NG