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Religious fundamentalism dragging the North backwards - Mark
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark, is a man known for his candid views on national issues. Shortly after the Senate retreat held in Uyo, Akwa-Ibom State, the Senate president fielded questions from correspondents, declaring that the North needed to do more to curb the rampaging activities of terror groups which he said were fast aggravating the region’s development. Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, brings the excerpts:
THE Senate just concluded its 2012 retreat. What do we take home from this exercise?
The first thing that I will put down in a paper is that every state has an opportunity to develop at its own pace. Akwa Ibom, from the briefing we’ve got on what we went round to see, has really judiciously utilized whatever allocation they have received. It has also shown that the governor is sufficiently exposed because you may have all the resources but if you don’t think deep, then you cannot plan deep. The second thing that I will put down on paper as far as the retreat is concerned is that we’ve been reasonably successful. But until the current insecurity in the country disappears, there is nothing that we can do at the moment that we will say is conclusive.
We have at least been able to chart a course, we have been able to expose our minds to some of the issues involved in the current security challenges we are facing.
How do you intend to fast-track your resolutions in the communiqué?
We do that by putting pressure on the executive, by personal contact from me, or by getting the committees to intensify their oversight functions over the MDAs and by individually talking to people who are responsible for those items in the communiqué.
The point now is that the Senate must also come out and be seen, as much as we can, as finding a practical solution to the problem on the ground. The legislations that we have at the moment are reasonably adequate, but there are areas where we need to tighten some of the laws that exist at the moment. We also try and look at those areas where we think we really need to strengthen the security agencies so that they can act. I am sure that there are areas at the moment where the security agencies may want to act but they don’t have the legal power, the legal instrument to act.
If you say the governor of Akwa Ibom has used the state money judiciously, would you then recommend that there should be peer review mechanism among governors?
Well, whether it is peer review mechanism or whether it is revisit or whatever, I think there is no harm in you going to a fellow governor, looking at what he has on the ground, discussing with him or asking him questions. One of the things that we‘ve also learnt is that when there is cooperation between the executive and the legislature, then it is a lot easier for you to operate.
The governor said that about eighty four per cent of his annual budgets are expended on capital, so he has only sixteen percent on recurrent and overhead.
At the federal level, it is the reverse, it is a complete reverse. No government can develop that way. There is Boko Haram issue but if you noticed, I said that one of the reasons that people advance is poverty, but I do believe that there is something far more fundamental than the issue of poverty, or that people are unemployed or that it is lack of education. All those things are not going to happen overnight. I think that the root cause of Boko Haram is religious fundamentalism and we must address it. We cannot shy away from it.
You fracture your right leg then when the doctor comes, you give him your left leg for treatment. How would the right leg heal? The real issues are there and we must face it if you want to face the reality. The most important thing in our resolutions as far as Boko Haram is concerned in my opinion is the fact that we must restrict religious preachers. We must license them, we can’t allow people to go about preaching what they want. If Islam believes that suicide will send you to hell and Christians believe that if you commit suicide you have no remedy you are going to hell, why are we allowing the Islamic teachers to preach something else? Why aren’t they being told that suicide is not acceptable in any religion? But the bad guys are the ones who are preaching that if you commit suicide, there is no problem, you are going to heaven; not only that you will go to heaven, but you will have over 70 virgins.
But some of the practitioners of religion might think that this is a way of gauging them. Don’t you think there is need for sensitisation before doing that?
Well, it is not the Senate that is going to do that. Our own is to make sure that we legislate in such a way that your preaching is not in tune with what will ensure national interest. If you are misinterpreting religious tenets, if you are misleading people, you are not giving the free hand to do so. At the moment, that is what is happening. There is no one single solution, but at least we must start from somewhere.
You will also notice that the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad, spoke that even they as traditional rulers can do little or nothing. So, in amending the constitution, we must give them a prominent role because they are an integral part of our traditional system. So, we should carve a role for them because they play an important role. For heavens sake what is happening now with Boko Haram in the North? We are n Akwa Ibom; now, will the governor of Akwa Ibom wait for the governor of Borno before he starts his own projects here? If Boko Haram that is saying that “we have been doing this over the years, western education is not helping us; all those who have been elected are people who have had western education and therefore they are not doing the right thing we want to bring development or they are doing it because there is no development in the North’’; who is the contractor now who will go and work in Borno or any affected areas in the North? It will only get worse. It cannot improve by the action of Boko Haram and, therefore, it is only important and proper that people tell them: “what you are doing will only bring you backwards and the gap between the North and the South will increase.’’
People don’t want to hear it but that is the truth on the ground. You cannot compare what you see on the ground in Akwa Ibom now with any of the states in the North. Yes, they are not receiving the same amount of money, but the cost of construction in the South is not the same at the cost of construction in the North. So, that in itself is not good enough a reason. All hands must be on deck, including even people like me. I don’t know any Boko Haram man and if I know, I would talk to him.
When I say that Northern leaders are now pretending, that is the truth. Some of them are pretending that they know the leaders and that they can talk to them; I don’t believe that they do. I used the word we. I’m told people are criticising me and saying that I am part of the North; did I say I am not part of the North? I said I am part of the North and that is the reason why I used the word we. If I know, I would talk to them; if they also know they should talk to them. But if they don’t know, they don’t need to pretend that they know just to be relevant. They should say so that they don’t know anything about them and then all of us should work together as a team. But if they don’t know and they don’t want to admit that they don’t know, then how do we solve the problem? I have always preached dialogue with Boko Haram from day one; that has been my stand. So, that they can explain their grievances and then we can address those grievances.
The plan to issue license to religious preachers is a constitutional matter and the Federal Government cannot legislate for the states…
But the National Assembly can legislate and tell you not to be telling people to go and commit suicide. The National Assembly can say that if you are a preacher and you are telling people to go and commit suicide, when they catch you, they will kill you also. That one has nothing to do with the state.
In your opening speech, you asked the Boko Haram leaders to come out of the closet and dialogue and that they will not be arrested. Is the executive on the same page with you on this?
They have to be on the same page. But you see those who are criticizing me have forgotten that one. They are not interested in that one. Would they be arrested? They will not be arrested. why should they be arrested if they have grievances and If I have given them my word? But if they hide behind to kill, then they will be arrested and, of course, the ultimate result is that they also will die.