Bassey James is many things rolled into one. A renowned criminologist, security expert and cleric, he is the founder of the Akpabiosm Centre and also the National President, Southern Youths Development Forum among others. In this interview with PATRICK OKOHUE he speaks about his desire for a new Nigeria and why the youths should come together to forge a front towards achieving a nation that can meet the challenges of the future.
Recently, there was the release of Dapchi girls that were kidnapped by the Boko Haram insurgents. It aroused some sort of controversy; many people see the Dapchi kidnap and how the girls were returned as a conspiracy theory. What is your view?
I think that President Muhammadu Buhari is a man of integrity and is also a man that is highly respected. He is a man that has been in power and he is a man that has large followers.
He is also a man that Nigerians love, trust and appreciate. I may not really key into that theory because this is a man that has been a former Head of State, so his followers are intact.
I don’t know what would have been the reason for the people to think along that line. I totally disagree with that theory. I don’t think it is really what happened.
The President Nigeria knows in I985 as a military Head of State, a man that became President in 2015 with large votes. The issue of Dapchi has to do with security, and I think that there is need for those in the security team to build a new strategy, develop a new content and see how they can develop new ideas and secure especially the schools.
The government of Borno State also must not expose the children, the girls’ students to unnecessary attack. And Nigerians also must engage beyond the military, there is need to bring in criminologist, people who in the military are either retired or serving. The issue of security is not just for the police or Federal Government alone.
Nigerians must come on board, everybody must come to collaborate. I designed a security communication network in 2012 for Joint Task Force for my state, Akwa Ibom State, and today we have the best. It has nothing to do with whether you are a military person, whether you are in government.
Everybody must come to collaborate. The government of Borno State, the Federal Government should bring in Nigerians and there must be a security council meeting aside the normal security meetings. There is need to engage other stakeholders.
The government, Federal Government and state governments. It has nothing to do with whether you are in the government. There is need for everybody to put their hands in order to see how we can work to sustain and develop our country, because Nigeria belongs to all.
It does not belong to APC or PDP or APGA or any political party. Nigeria is not a party. Nigeria is a nation and every Nigerian must be able to contribute its own quota. I did in my state and I believe we can contribute.
For the first time in the history of this country, I put up a program last two years, the National Youth Security Conference and that is what we want to do now, so that we can talk about issues of security, empowerment and how we can make contributions to the development of our great country.
On the issue of security, you were planning a National Youth conference and that conference I believe was aimed at bringing in everybody and trying to look for ways of building a better nation. How far about that?
We talked to so many people. We’ve gone to the North, South, East and West, but in Nigeria, if you are not in government, nobody listens to you. Everybody has something to contribute.
There is need for us to talk, there is need for the Nigerian youths to talk, because if you look at these people, the numbers of people that dies every day, from 1999 to now, we have not lost the number of people that we are losing now.
Check the number of people that have died. Whether you are talking about Odi, Zaki Ibiam, Benue, Rivers, the East, so much is happening around and the easiest way to deal with that is to bring the young men to talk and tell them it’s not about party, or personality.
Nigeria has to move forward and we are the young people that will move Nigeria forward. So the National Youth conference was an idea that God gave to me and we must do it.
For the South West, we will hold a program in Lagos. Bring all the Yoruba youths together to sit with the Northern, South South, Igbo youths and discuss the unity of Nigeria. We will move to Owerri. In Owerri we will do the same thing. Let us start talking to ourselves.
It isn’t something the Federal Government should do. It is something the Nigeria youths can do on our own. We can save Nigeria. Bring in the young men in the police, military, banking sector.
Bring in people from all works of life. The government can get involved. The idea is that I don’t want the government to sponsor the program. We are going to do it on our own.
And we believe the sons of past presidents should be involved. What are President Buhari’s children doing? What are Babangida’s children doing? What are the senators, ministers’ children doing?
They must come to table and let us start talking Nigeria and this is the only way we can move forward, because the young men cannot be used for the purpose of election alone and after they dump them.
We want to see Nigeria beyond 2019. We want to see the role of the youths. Not taking one or two youths into government and say I have employed the youths. We want revolutionary ideas among the youths, giving them hope and a sense of belonging.
What do you think will happen if the likes of Dangote can come and talk to Nigerian youths and share his experience. Everybody is trying to run away, but the more we run away the more problems come to us. It is not about Buhari or APC.
It’s not about PDP. It is about Nigeria. I am committed to Nigeria. I have no other country. No matter the country you go to, Nigeria still remains the best.
There is no country that can offer you what your country can offer you. The issue is not about whether I am from Akwa Ibom State. The issue is not whether I am from South South and I don’t care.
The most important thing is that let us bring the youths from all parts of the country and see how we can develop content, but in trying to do this, I want to see how we can expand through the regions. There is nothing you lose when you talk. You even lose when you don’t talk.
You know the herdsmen are killing people and the IPOB issue is there, you know everywhere you go in Nigeria there is fear, there is tension.
And the only people that can solve the tension are the Nigerian youths. We will tell them you cannot be used to destroy your own self.
When you kill an Hausa man, you kill a Nigerian. When you kill a Benin man, a Yoruba, Tiv, Akwa Ibom man, you are killing your own brother. This is a mission, this is a vision that I have and we must do it. So the government, state government must partner with us. We must begin to talk to ourselves.
For instance, the Niger Deltans are not militants. We have Niger Delta people who are not militants. I don’t want to hear the word militant, amnesty for militant.
Instead of giving amnesty, let us look for a way to engage the youths. Is not when you say I sent you to this, I have given you that, SureP didn’t work. SureP has never worked. The government has no business in sharing money.
Give the money to the banks. If you are a youth, if you are a businessman, you go and apply to the banks, under the Federal Government negotiated interests.
There is so much going on and we must wake up to stop that. We must sit down to discuss these issues. The banks are in the right position to know those who will pay the loans. Those who collected the SureP loans, they didn’t pay.
They will never pay. They can never pay. It has become a National cake so we must sit down to discuss these issues. Take 20 banks in Nigeria, bring in African Development Bank, bring in World Bank, whatever you want to do and say this is the numbers of people I want to work.
We can create entrepreneurship development services. Let us start talking to banks. Look at the Agro Borrower Scheme, it is not working. It can never work because when Federal Government brings up a programe, things they would do is to politicise the program. And it is only the people in the political parties.
If it is given to APC state, 99% of the beneficiaries will be APC people. If it’s in PDP state, 99% will be PDP. And we cannot achieve a nation based on political affiliation. We must be able to develop content outside politics.
This is how we can grow a nation. We must begin to build Dangotes through the process of talking. Look at what Tony Elumelu is doing, government must key into that kind of program.
Every young man must be tutored by Dangote, by Tony Elumelu, by the president, and the president themselves, both past and present should release their children to engage other youths in talking.
Talking about bringing down tension, many people are saying that in the three years of this administration, they have largely failed in delivering on their promises which has gone a long way to creating the tension you talked about. Do you agree?
The tension didn’t start in Buhari’s government. The tension has been there, that was why Buhari became the President. I was a member of the presidential campaign team, which I regret, we saw the tension. We knew what was going to happen.
Now that we have a new government, the tension continues because party cannot change the psychology of its people. It is the nation that changes the psychology of its citizens.
So the tension will always be there. There is need for the Nigerian state to engage the young ones, who are the victims. We cannot fight.
Even restructuring cannot solve the problem except the Nigerian youths sit to talk about Nigeria itself. When you listen to the great Zik of Africa talk about independence, he said it was not going to matter to him whether it was Awolowo, Abubakar, whether it was Tafawa Balewa that was going to be the president.
It was not a problem. The major problem then was how they can get independence and they got independence collectively. It was not a one man show.
What happened after independence? Why are we fighting ourselves? Why are we talking about North, South, East and West? We must come and have the spirit of the founding founders of Nigeria who came together to form a united front to confront the slave masters. That is achievable. We can do it.
Considering all that you have said let me come back home a little. You were one of the people who campaigned for the present governor of your state, Akwa Ibom. You even hosted him, which attracted many dignitaries, how is his performance so far. How has he helped in empowering the youths in bringing some of these things to light and what is your relationship with him, especially in trying to bring forward these ideas?
The governor is my brother; I am not the best person to access my brother. It will be very wrong for me to say this is what my brother has done, but by the grace of God, he has done to the best of his ability.
We pray for him every day. You know I worked for him. I was one of the few young men that hosted him and I stand to be challenged. I hosted him in the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs.
We brought in thousands of people. He came and addressed the gathering and we moved the show to Abuja and thousands of people came all over the Northern states and Akwa Ibom people. And not only that, we engaged them.
We moved them to Uyo because there was one issue that pushed me to do that. People say that Eket Senatorial District did not have a material and we say no we have to prove them wrong.
In Eket, we have thousands of people that can be the governor. And we say that Uyo Senatorial District ruled Akwa Ibom under Obong Victor Attah and we supported him. I supported Obong Victor Attah very well.
When his Excellency, Governor Godswill Akpabio emerged as the governor even before he became the governor, I developed a content called Akpabiosm. And Akpabiosm is a major force today in Akwa Ibom State.
Akpabiosm Ambassadors emerged in all nooks and cranny, across and beyond Akwa Ibom State. From the people, you know it became so powerful. And Akpabiosm Ambassadors worked for the emergence of this governor.
For me, I didn’t work for my brother the governor to become a commissioner. I worked because I believe he has the capacity, the technical knowhow, that he was going to reform, rebuild and reposition Akwa Ibom State and it will be wrong for me to sit here and say I score him, because I am his brother and because whatever I score him, people will not believe.
They will say because he is from Eket. What do you expect an Eket man to say. But I pray for him to carry everyone along and I believe by the grace of God, it is the people of Akwa Ibom State that have the capacity to score the governor.
An Eket man is always a successful man. Anybody from where we come from cannot be beaten. He knows where he comes from. He is an Eket ambassador.
Eket people believe so much that we have the capacity. Eket Senatorial District is the house that holds the resources we have. We have to be very careful with what we say and do but so far, so good, we are going back to the field in 2019 and we are putting up so many structures.
I have gone back to the grassroots, that is why I am silent very soon. Even from the local government we are very visible. We are building structures and I can assure you that in 2019, we will spring up surprises from my point of view.
We will spring surprises. Don’t forget, I was a member of the presidential campaign team. And I am the founder of the Akpabiosm ambassadors and I am the founder and president of Southern Youth Development Forum.
These are very powerful groups and the Eastern Youth Forum. I am in the politics of Akwa Ibom State. The Akpaboism that I founded was not financed by anybody. I financed Akpabiosm.
Your passion for Nigeria and the issue of security is infectious, but why did you donate a well equipped, standard police station to the Akwa Ibom State Police Command, for which you got a commendation letter from the Inspector General of Police, isn’t that government’s responsibility?
You see, by my training and experience, I have come to the understanding that for a nation or state to grow, the issue of security must be dealt with and there is no way the government alone can take care of all the security needs of its people.
It is the responsibility of you and I and every well meaning member of the society to contribute their quota to building a safer, better society and I believe that one of the ways I can contribute my part is by supporting the police, which informed my donating the Police Station.
God willing I am ready to do more according to my capacity and I appeal to other well meaning Nigerians to also . their role in helping to create a better safer Nigeria.
The way you speak, it will be surprising if you do not have a political ambition. Do you?
I have. I am watching what is going on in my state, what is going on in my local government. My people want me to contest election and I know if I contest I will win.
So for me, my ambition is to make sure that we spring surprises from the state to local government, and to the National, because I have so many friends who are running even in government who are trying to reach out to us.
What is your view of the President Olusegun Obasanjo led Third Force coalition?
Well, the former President has the right to create the Third force, Fourth force, Fifth force. But do know what they want? We know what we want. We are not going to be pushed around by any political ideology when we know what to do.
Nigerian youths must come up. Who are the people in the Third force? I am not against the Third force, but what I am saying is that we are working with Nigerian youths because we are the larger percentage of people that will even vote.
So while they are building their Third force, I want to see how we can also build the Youth force. The Youth force that will not be violent, that will not be into cultism. We want to see brand new leaders from across the nation. So we want to see a Nigerian youth that will say I will not kill for anything.
The blood of any Nigerian to be shed is not worth it, because if for instance my son is serving in the North, there will be no Akwa Ibom person there.
Even if he sees some, they can’t give him comfort better than what the Hausa man can give him in that particular area. So, when I see an Hausa man in my state, I see him as my brother. I interact with them. So this is what I am trying to build.
Beyond party, beyond APC, beyond PDP, beyond political lines, let us build Nigerian youths and bring in our leaders to talk to them that Nigeria will not end.
Nigeria will continue to be a great nation. We the young ones are the ones to make Nigeria greater. But there is so much selfishness because when you help them to become whatever, they abandon the people that supported them.
And that is what is fuelling this problem. You may not give money or appointment to everybody but even a greeting is enough. You can’t wake up in the morning and abandon the people that suffered for you and build new friends because you are in government.
It’s so painful. We need new structures, we need infrastructures but we need security more. Whatever infrastructure you want to build and develop, we need to have security more and those in security circle should bring in other people.
I designed the security architecture for Akwa Ibom State. Up till today we still have the best. We have security villages in Akwa Ibom State.
There is need for the federal and state governments to build national integrated network. Let everybody begin to contribute to the development of Nigeria. And let there be access to those in government, not just when they want to go in for campaigns.
We want to see Nigeria beyond 2019. We want to see the role of the youths. Not taking one or two youths into government and say I have employed the youths. We want a revolutionary ideas among the youths, giving them hope and a sense of belonging. What do you think will happen if the likes of Dangote can come and talk to Nigerian youths and share his experience. Everybody is trying to runaway, but the more we run away the more problems come to us. It is not about Buhari or APC. It’s not about PDP. It is about Nigeria.
I am not against the Third force, but what I am saying is that we are working with Nigerian youths because we are the larger percentage of people that will even vote. So while they are building their Third force, I want to see how we can also build the Youth force. The Youth force that will not be violent, that will not be into cultism. We want to see brand new leaders from across the nation. So we want to see a Nigerian youth that will say I will not kill for anything.