Dr Cairo Ojougboh is chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC). In this interview, he speaks on some topical issues in the polity including the herdsmen’s menace and the efforts the Federal Government is making to address the problem.
Ojougboh, who served as the Deputy National Chairman of the Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), also speaks on the chances of the party in the 2019 general elections prediction that it will lose to the APC in the South-south, which is its major stronghold.
President Muhammadu Buhari has, of late, been visiting states that are battling with one security challenge or the other. How do you think his visit would rub-off on the state of affairs in those states and the entire country?
I have said it times without number that the president is a very caring man. He means well for this country. You see, the foundation for these skirmishes and herdsmen’s menace across the country was laid years ago. But the president has put machinery on ground to tackle it. The military has been deployed to the affected places, which has made it possible to have some level of peace under which Mr. President could visit. With the visits, the people now know that he means well for the country. So, those who feel offended will now calm down and explore the alternatives towards restoring peace.
Now, the conflict point is that the herders move their cattle to graze and look for water. In the process of doing so, they injure and violate farmers who pursue their own businesses in a particular location; they are static. That is the cause of all these problems. So, government must do everything within its powers to separate the herders and farmers so that there will be no contact. Once that is done, we will have peace everywhere in the country.
The president has ordered that any herder seen with arms must be arrested and charged to court. That is the position of government. But as with every issue like this, people are bound to hold divergent opinions. There are those who say that the president didn’t visit the states early. They just take one-off issues like the shooting in California and the 9/11 attacks in the U.S. and begin to draw comparison. But this has been an ongoing problem, so there was no need for the president to rush to the place. What was uppermost at that point in time was to provide security for the people. The president is the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces and he promptly ordered the security agencies to provide security for the affected areas. So, we must separate governance from politics; we must separate religion from politics. We must not politicise everything. Because the PDP is desperate to come back to power, they are willing to tell any lies and do anything to discredit the government of the day and the person of the president. It is most unfortunate.
You said the foundation of the present security challenges was laid a long time ago. How?
APC was not in power when herdsmen started kidnapping people in this country. Have you forgotten? Was the APC in power when the killings in Plateau and Benue states started? By 2011, these killings had been pronounced and APC wasn’t in power then; President Buhari wasn’t in power then. So, the problem has been there.
But some Nigerians are saying that this administration should stop giving excuses and find solutions to the problem?
Nigerians saw the president in Benue when he castigated the Inspector-General of Police. The president has mobilised battalions to the affected areas to provide security and restore peace. But remember that the police had been perennially and perpetually under-funded. The police don’t also have enough personnel. The number of policemen in the country is about 250,000 but this government has ordered that the personnel should be increased to almost 500,000. The government is now funding the police like never before. When we have enough policemen and they are well funded and equipped, they can deal with these skirmishes. It’s not every situation that you bring in the Army. This herdsmen’s menace is something that the police can handle properly if they are well equipped. This administration is already trying to achieve that.
You talked about the PDP being desperate to return to power but the party has witnessed defections from its fold of late. How do you think the development will impact on its chances in 2019?
You know the reason some of us in Ali Modu Sheriff’s faction of the PDP left the party? Almost everybody in that faction has moved to the APC. Prof. Jerry Gana and Prof. Tunde Adeniran left the party recently. So, more people are leaving; and more people will still leave. That tells you that when people shout that APC cannot win in 2019, Buhari cannot win in 2019, they talk out of political naivety. This is politics and Nigerians should be careful about what they say. The people who make such utterances play politics in the media and on the Internet. But the masses that vote during elections are with this government. Let me ask you: how many times have you voted in elections in this country? A lot of these people who read newspapers, watch television and surf the Internet cannot go and line up with the masses to vote. And it’s the vote that counts. Did you see the huge crowd that welcomed the president during his visit to Plateau State? People were climbing electric poles and water reservoirs to catch a glimpse of him. It’s because the people understand the root cause of the problems of the country. They appreciate the president’s anti-corruption efforts. They want him to send all those that have stolen our common wealth to jail. Now, if you are talking about the PDP returning to power in 2019, how are they going to do that? Look at my state, Delta, for instance. How can the governor win a second term in office? The man does not even have an idea of budgeting. He is completely incompetent. After three years in office, he has nothing to show as his achievement. The only thing he has to show is the Paris Club refund, which his administration has not been able to explain how it was expended. This is not to talk of the loans his administration has been taking from the banks. They have been using the name of the Asagba of Asaba to campaign for his second term, but a chief recently came out to declare that the Asagba never endorsed him for a second term. That says much about the dishonesty in the PDP. How can a governor allow people to go and be saying that the Asagba has approved a second term for him when indeed nothing like that happened? Are these the kind of people you want to handover the government to? God forbid! Nigerians will not allow PDP to come back to power; they cannot win.
So what do you make of the claims by members of the party that they are already wired to reclaim power in 2019?
They are not wired to return to Aso Rock; they are wired for somewhere else not Aso Rock. How can they return to Aso Rock? Where are they going to get the votes? Let me tell you – the entire South-south is heading for the APC. Delta is going to APC. Majority of Deltans have nothing good to say about the government in the state. We launched ‘Operation One-man-one-vote’ in Warri recently and the outcome was overwhelming. You needed to see the crowd. We are launching the initiative from one local council to another because we have completely destroyed and buried PDP’s monstrous rigging machinery in the state. We have disabled it and it will not work again.
In Rivers State, I can tell you that the APC will win there. The Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi and his supporters are working very hard and they will win. What used to make the PDP to win in Rivers is violence. But the chief architect of the violence in Rivers, Don Waney, is dead. His lieutenants are also dead. In Akwa Ibom State, there is no peace between former Governor Godswill Akpabio and the incumbent, Governor Udom Emmanuel. Akpabio is now in the Senate but I can assure you that none of them will return. So, South-south is going to APC. I am from South-south and I know what I’m saying. You will see what will happen in 2019.
If you are sure of what you are saying, is it that the people can’t play opposition politics or there is now an attraction for the APC in the zone?
There is an attraction; the attraction is that for the first time in a very long while development is coming to the South-south and South-east. The Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway is now being reconstructed; the reconstruction of Enugu-Onitsha expressway that was abandoned for almost 30 years ago is nearing completion. The construction of Agbor-Ewuh road that had been abandoned completely has started. The East-West Road that was designed to fail is being overhauled; the Aba-Port Harcourt Road is now being rehabilitated; the Second Niger Bridge, which the PDP played politics with for 16 good years, is now being constructed. We had our son as president for six years but we didn’t see these infrastructural developments. So, if President Buhari, who is a northerner, is doing all these for us, why can’t we support him? When you talk about positions in government, we are even better off now than when our son was the president. So, what else do we need?
What we are looking for is development. What we are looking for is a government that can stop corruption; what we are looking for is a government that is confident, a government that can take bold steps that will boost our economy. Our foreign reserves now stand at $46 billion; it had never risen to that level for years now. Electricity generation is now 7,000 mega watts and there is remarkable improvement in power supply across the country. The administration of the petroleum industry has improved like never before. These are the things that define governance. What else are people looking for?
But a lot of people still say that this government has not done enough and has even warned the President not to seek re-election in 2019?
This government has been in office for barely three years. What do they want them to do? In the first three years of former president Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, what happened? What did they achieve? You see, this government by the grace of God will have a second term and at the end of the eight years, Nigerians will see the difference. In any case, the North must complete their eight years; that’s why we want Buhari to come back. The Igbo are waiting for their turn for the presidency.
You left the PDP for the APC because of crisis but things appear to be falling apart in your new party. Do you think you are politically safe?
Yes, I’m very safe. There is no crisis in APC; none at all. People should not worry about the party. The APC is a party of rule of law; we will follow our constitution strictly. And I can assure that everything is being looked into. The president is a forthright man and that’s a plus for the party.