Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Former Minister of State for Education, Prof. Jerry Agada has said that selfish and personal interests have made Nigeria more divided now than during the civil war. He said so and more in this interview.
There’s this belief in some quarters that Nigeria is now more divided than it used to be. What is your take on this?
Those of us who were old enough during the civil war saw that the war came up because of problems. I remember I was preparing to go to Form 1 in 1966 when the war started and we were asked to go home. There was confusion everywhere and that time we knew there were divisions in the country. The civil war was fought as a way to keep Nigeria together so that there wouldn’t be secession. The war was fought, the war ended and then the three Rs (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Rebuilding) came up and we thought that, that was a way to cement things so that the divisions that had existed before the civil war should be forgotten after the war so that the unity we all so yearn for would come back. That was the way some of us saw it and we felt that since after the war, successive governments have been making efforts to make sure that such principle is sustained. Actually, I was thinking that a time was going to come when it would now become perfect that what we set out to achieve after having fought the war and so on, we would come to a situation whereby we would say there is perfect unity. But that is not what is happening now. If you cast your mind back for example, this issue of federal character commission and such other things that were done, I was thinking it’s a way to say let this one happen here and let that one happen there so that we would all be carried along and nobody would feel cheated; so that people would be working to bring about healing in the country. But of late, you would discover that all those things are just there by mouth. They are not even effective these days again. Anything happens anyhow and of course, I’m not putting the blame on anybody but if you see the way things are happening now, it wasn’t like this before. This is what is bringing this division. Take for instance, federal appointments, you would discover that people complain that things go to a certain area and the other areas are left out. Is that something that should bring about unity? It’s not. So, if you want to talk about unity and people working together so that there will be no division here and there, then work towards it so that everybody will be safe. We must ensure that conscious efforts are being made to ensure that our togetherness is maintained. But the way things are happening now, it seems to me that there is more division right now in the country than it used to be.
So, what is the way out?
The solution to bring about unity is to work with our minds to make sure that unity prevails. When people are complaining that certain sections are marginalized for instance, and you know that they are marginalized, and you are not making efforts to eradicate that form of marginalization, it means you’re not helping matters. But if you know that there is such a problem and you work towards solving that problem, then we can say that a time will come when perfect unity will come to stay. Take for instance, what stops a section of the country from producing the president of the country? To me, any side, whether South West, South East, South South, North East, North West, North Central, if this thing can go by way of rotation so that it can get to everybody, to me, that is a way of bringing the type of unity I’m talking about. But where somebody will get up and say people from South East should forget about presidency, then what are you saying? It means that they are not talking for unity.
Talking about the issue of presidency that you have just mentioned, there’s a lot of agitations going on presently about 2023. Are you also agitating that it should now be the turn of the Middle Belt?
The point is that the issue of presidency has been broadly divided into North and South. So, when you’re talking of North, that is when you will be talking of Middle Belt, North East and North West. When you’re talking of South, then all these South East, South West and the South South come to mind. So, if you put it broadly, the president had been coming from the broad North. So, to me, if that is the case, let it go to the South this time around. And when it goes to the South, zones who have had the opportunity to serve in the presidency there; South West and South South, (they know themselves) should now allow it to move to the other side of the South that hasn’t had it so that it will also go to them. That way, it means you’re reckoning with everybody. Coming to the North too, when next it goes to the North, that time, I can say well, this part and that of the North have been having it, so, it is now the turn of the North Central which had not had it before to have it. But the way I’m looking at it, having remained in this broad spectrum of North and South, I think it should go to the South for now even though I’m from the North Central.
Are you now saying people like Tinubu and Bode George who are agitating from the South West should allow it to go to the South East for now?
That is exactly what I’m saying. In fact, people from South West have no reason to contest for the presidency in 2023. Is it not that side that Obasanjo came from? So, why should they come? They want to capitalise on opportunity. As far as I’m concerned, people from the South West and South South should relax and let it go to the South East this time around. That is my thinking.
Let’s look at the issue of ‘Amotekun’. Recently, Houses of assembly in the South West passed the Amotekun bill into law. Would you agitate for such security outfit to be established in the Middle Belt?
The point is that the Amotekun issue has made me to further like the people from that side of the country because they have vision and they know how to approach matters and do things that can help themselves. You know, I always tell people that in the entire country, even the type of whatever we are seeing now had been brought into existence by the workings of people from the South Western part of the country. For instance, NADECO during Abacha’s time and things like that. Even though we had one or two persons from the North who were members of the group, majority of them were Yoruba. The Yoruba people are not afraid to speak truth to power so long as the correct thing is done. They don’t talk for self interest but for the interest of the country. But they feel that the goodness that can happen to the country should also start from them. It is through that effort that this Amotekun is coming out. Look at the way we are being harrassed here in Benue and in the North Central by herdsmen and the rest of them. Only recently, we saw on the television, the herds of cattle that took over the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi. These cattle were getting ready to set into action by demolishing things and the rest of them. These are the sort of things that Amotekun is ready to combat so that it will not happen to them. We need something like that too especially as we see these people defying our law, the Benue Anti Open Grazing Law which is already in place. If there’s such a forceful force that can fight these invaders back, it will be very good. What stops North Central from having it’s own regional security outfit like the South West Amotekun? These will enable the zone confront any such threat coming from anywhere. Not to go and be seeking permission from anybody before you can protect yourself. You know the Attorney General of the Federation came to say the thing was illegal but when they harassed him with their resistance, did the Attorney General not take back his words by saying that he did not pronounce it illegal? If they had not taken that action, you would see that by now, they won’t have something like that and then, they will be exposed to be crushed over by herdsmen that are parading all over the country. To me, if North Central can have their own security outfit, I will support it; any other region that can have their own, I will support it. That is the division that I am saying has been brought into the country. The time things were working perfectly, you talk of herdsmen for instance, have we not been living together with Fulani people? We have. We use to play together, when they carry their cattle and their children passing through our market, we use to stay by the side and be admiring them. In fact, one of my elderly women would say, they are spirits and people will come and watch to see how they moved gently to where they will set up their bedding or their thatched houses to stay for two or three days for their animals to graze, then, they will go. They don’t feed on people’s farm but even where a mistake was made, you will see that they settle it amicably with the community people, pay for damages and continue. That time, things were working well and there was unity. But now, they are harassing and killing people. The authority which should speak to them to stop doing such things just keeps quiet and allow them. Therefore, nothing is happening as things go from bad to worse. It is what is bringing about the disunity we are talking about now.
How do you react to beliefs in some quarters that Ameotkun is another way of smuggling in restructuring of the country from the back door?
Why do you say through the back door? Is anything wrong with restructuring? When people say resource control for instance, imagine the region where these things are taken from, where the country’s money is made from to develop the country and you go there and there is no level of development and then you go to the other side where these things are not coming from but because they control the political power to determine what should be done, they take from there to go and develop their own. You think the people will be happy. If we do restructuring and leave the people to do whatever they can, pay a percentage to the centre but control whatever you have, I tell you that all these places claiming to be poor now, even Benue State would spring surprises. We have mineral on the ground here that we can harness to make sure that we also get our own money. There is no part of this country that there are no mineral resources that they can use to make their own money. But for federalism, the way we play our own feeding bottle federalism according to a former deputy president, which at the end of the month everybody runs to Abuja to collect allocation, many wouldn’t be thinking of what they can do even when there are potentials on the ground to make money. They would go to Abuja because they call it national cake. I’m thinking that if there is restructuring, all these potentials will be enhanced and people will be more focused on doing what they can on their own. To me, that’s an aspect of restructuring that we are talking about. So, if Amotekun, for instance, as people are insinuating, is bringing restructuring, then fine. It is making the thing perfect to make the federalism perfect the way we want it to be, fine. It is good. Let us also do it, let other people do it. Then petty, petty things will be there because the authority in the country is not working towards central unity. So, let them divide and do it the way they want.
Let me take you back to the issue of 2023 presidency. It seems the core North is still very interested in that position; what is your take?
To me, anybody agitating to be president from the Northern divide, I mean the person is not being fair to the Nigerian situation. The person is being opportunistic, greedy. Nobody within the geopolitical zone in the North is qualified. Anybody who is trying to be president from there is trying to take undue advantage of a situation which they seek our support. Take for instance, I read from somewhere the other day when somebody said, once you put anybody from the North, the person will win because of population. I’m sorry. During the general election, do you not see on the television some states in the North (I do not want to mention the name) that there was no election there. They put the ballot papers on the floor and some people were just thumb-printing including children. At the end of the day, they would say they are more in number. When there was electoral amendment, to take care of some of these issues, like the use of card reader, if it were used, all these thumb-printing and so on would not take place, Because it was not signed into law and they know it; so all these issues will remain like that. To me, anybody from the Northern divide talking about this presidency is not being fair. It is such people that are looking for problems in this Nigeria because they don’t want unity.
What better ways can be adopted to handle the rising spate of insecurity in the country such as kidnapping, armed robbery and banditry among others?
The insecurity is too much. I have never seen insecurity in the country like the way it is happening now. I was looking at some pictures on the television the other day and I said to myself that people talk of Afghanistan and some other places where everyday, one hear about killings and I thought it was far. My people have a proverb that if anything you see is close by, when you hear, it is still far off unless you see it has become close to you. But now we are seeing, look at cases of suicide everyday on Lagos bridge; people are just jumping into the river to take their own lives. So many things are happening, because of the rate of poverty; everybody is suffering. After all, what is madness? It is not being able to think reasonably; so many things get into you to get you confused, so they just jump into the river and think the problem will finish, not knowing that if you commit suicide, you don’t know the situation over there. Maybe God will punish you there for committing suicide. So, if you are thinking that by killing yourself, you are running away from problem, you will, maybe, running into more problem. I think government can do much more to reduce the spate of insecurity. Like it is happening to us in Benue State, the utterance some people use to make is disheartening. When plenty people were killed sometime ago in Benue, the utterances coming from people who were in charge of security were blames. They said why were we crying; we should not cry so that the outside world will not hear that such type of thing was happening. And they were killing us, was that the way to help us not let the killings continue to happen? As far as I am concerned, government has the ace, government knows what is happening everyday where killings take place, it (government) says we will take care of it but as the day goes by, more killings are happening. They who know what to do for the killings not to take place should take care of it.
Still on 2023 as it concerns Benue. Don’t you think it is time for power to shift go Benue South dominated by the Idoma people?
If you recall, some of us have actually contested the governorship of the state in the past because we felt that it should come to our side. And you come to think about it, since the creation of Benue State, if the governorship has been put to one side and is not going to the other side, what is the situation of the things we have in the country now? Are things better for us? And if you say that things are not moving for the better, why don’t you try the other side too to see whether they can also try so that when comparisons are made, you would say the other time you agitated but didn’t do anything. You would see that if there is competition, people will struggle to do their best when they get that position. Somebody came to see me at my office a while ago and saw that the structure (State Civil Service Commission head office) was commissioned by Gen. Babangida in 1991. And he said many of these structures were commissioned by the military and he concluded that it is the military that put infrastructure on the ground more than the civilian. Then I told him he cannot say that because Aper Aku built the Aper Aku stadium and the State Secretariat among other gigantic structures in the state. But when the person asked further that after that, what next, I had no answer to give to him because the truth of the matter is that things are actually not happening the way they should be. There is this proverb of the cricket and the farmer. The farmer goes to the farm and brings cricket for his children to eat. So, when the child of the farmer is coming, the cricket would say let him catch him because he has nothing to tell the son of the farmer. Whether he likes it or not, they will catch him. That is what is happening to us here and we have nothing to say. I was talking about what should bring unity into the country and I said the issue of marginalization should be tackled. If marginalization can bring division, then why don’t we take steps to make sure that it is reduced or that it does not take place at all? And one of the ways to take the steps is to shift the governorship seat to another side so that another person will also try just as I talked of the issue of the North holding unto the presidency. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander.
Your Party, the PDP has been accused of laying the foundation for some of the crises that are presently plaguing this country especially the killing of the Boko Haram founder, Mohammed Ibrahim. What do you have to say about this?
The killing of the Boko Haram founder and the spread of insurgency is just a way of mishandling situations. It was not from party basis. You can’t say it was PDP that went yo kill that man. After all, he was killed by the police even though it was PDP government that was in power at that time. So, they didn’t tell you that they killed him for PDP. But as for PDP causing all these problems that we are talking about, all the people that are accusing PDP today, were they not in PDP before? They were in PDP. Many of them were governors, ministers and NASS members for eight years under PDP. That same person will come and stand today and say 16 years of PDP, meanwhile you took eight years as a governor and you didn’t do anything in your state. Today, you’re telling me that the whole problems were caused by the PDP. For instance, I used to like our Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo very much because of the way he talks but of late, I started disliking him. You know why? Osinbajo will come and say all these problems that are happening to us Nigerians and we are not getting bread to eat are caused by the PDP instead of proferring solution to the problem. Is that what he should be saying? It was because we needed another government to come and do better that people voted out PDP. So, why are you not doing something that will better the lot of Nigerians? Everyday you keep saying 16 years of PDP. Meanwhile, most of them were in PDP that time. So, how would you assess the APC government? This is the same thing that I’m telling you. The APC is just doing propaganda. I’m telling you. The same thing they said should not happen is the same thing that are happening under them. So, is that not propaganda? I don’t want to start mentioning item by item but it happens. Look at the payment of fuel subsidy for instance. I remember during Jonathan that people were almost rioting. The APC was saying when they come into government, Nigeria would not pay subsidy and so on. Now, the subsidy that is being paid is even much more than what was happening that time.
But you supported the APC government that time…
I did not support APC government or go into APC because of their manifesto or whatever they were doing. I joined APC then because Governor Ortom and I were all in PDP and we were working. And when the ticket for the governorship seat was not given to him and it was given to him by APC, and he’s my friend and we are working together, I had no choice than to go there with the intention that when I go, I would be doing things to make sure that things go the better way that I want it to go. But when the APC did not want to continue with him, he defected back to PDP and I defected too. So, that my short period of sojourn in APC is not because I like APC.