By Rose Ejembi
The Benue State Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Reverend Akpen Leva believes that power must shift to the North Central region of Nigeria come 2023. Among others, he applauded President Muhammadu Buhari for the recent change of Service chiefs, saying it was better late than never.
What’s your take on the recent change of security apparatus of this country?
I want to appreciate President Muhammadu Buhari for the recent appointments he has made. It shows that he has listened to the cries and the request of Nigerians because even in the National assembly, many people said that he should change the Service chiefs because the best they were doing was not good enough. He himself told them that the best they were doing was not enough. And people were clamouring for that change to the extent that everybody became tired. Some were thinking that he wanted them to be there till 2023. But all of a sudden, we heard the announcement that they have resigned and the President has appointed new Service chiefs. There’s a saying that it is better to be late than never. So, even though, it seems as if he delayed, I think this is God’s time for the new Service chiefs to be on board. So, we commend Mr. President for this and we equally encourage him to have a listening ear for the people of Nigeria. Anything that the people complain about should be given utmost attention. This is democracy and he has to listen to the voice of the people.
The spate of insecurity in the country seems to be increasing astronomically. Do you think these new crops of Service chiefs would be able to do something to address the security quagmire the country has found itself?
As much as I commend Mr. President for these appointments, I welcome on board the new Service chiefs. They have come on board at a very difficult time that the nation has been experiencing insecurity to the level that nobody sleeps with his or her eyes closed any longer. We have kidnappings, armed banditry, insurgency, armed robberies, herdsmen attacks and so many vices going on. There are so many bandits in our forests and on our roads. Many lives have been lost to all these societal vices. So, the Service chiefs have come at a time that Nigeria is actually in search of leadership that will stop this insecurity. So, they have a herculean task before them. As they have come on board, I think it is our duty to pray for them so that God will give them the wisdom to be able to tackle this nagging insecurity in the country. If not, our roads are not good and they are death traps. And there’s imminent hunger in the land. Because of the activities of these bandits, it has come to the extent that farmers need security before they can go to farm or else, they will lose their lives. What kind of a nation is this? I want to place on record that the Federal Government is capable of securing the lives and property of Nigerians. So, the new Service chiefs should bear in mind that it is their primary responsibility to build that confidence into Nigerians. These new crop of Service chiefs need to surpass the achievements of their predecessors to gain the confidence of all Nigerians. So, I am calling on the new Service chiefs to do the needful and evolve strategies to tackle the high level of insecurity currently plaguing the country. You know security needs strategies such as intelligence gathering and so on. I know the military are intelligent and they will put their hands on deck with the junior officers and other paramilitary organizations so that Nigeria will become secure again.
When Benue was crying and had to enact the anti open grazing law, the state looked like an orphan. Now, the South West and indeed the Nigerian Governors Forum have decided to ban open grazing. What’s your take on this?
The Benue story is a story that has a lot of lessons for Nigerians. In fact, I came on board at the heat of this insurgency in Benue. For the first time, I had to bury 73 corpses. It wasn’t an easy task at all. And when we were crying, I could remember very well some people in this nation, some states were saying that Benue is crying too much. Some said Benue was performing drama because of insurgency in the state. Some didn’t even believe that the corpses were up to 73. And the corpses were even more than that. It was those discovered that we buried. Some got rotten in the forests and bushes and some were butchered to the point that the families decided to hurriedly dig graves and bury them immediately. The corpses were so many but we recovered 73. And that is why we thought that we have to immortalize these heroes of anti open grazing law in Benue State. It was a pity and that’s why we came together and said in the 21st century, you cannot be rearing cattle openly grazing everywhere. It’s not the best. It’s uncalled for. If you go to foreign countries who have more cattle than Nigeria, you won’t even see any cattle outside, yet you can eat beef as much as you want. But here in Nigeria, the herders say it is their practice and their culture to roam from Sokoto to Cross River and from Kano to Lagos. That is useless and uncalled for in the 21st century. Most routes have been occupied by people; schools are there, hospitals and all of that. How do you destroy these things to have cattle routes? How can you give routes to cattle even when we cannot have good roads for the people to ply? That was why we came together and enacted the Benue anti open grazing law in 2017. Our outspoken governor, Samuel Ortom was looked upon then as a stubborn child. He kept on telling everyone that the best global practice is ranching. And what Benue was saying, I’m happy that all the states in this country are queuing behind Benue now. I want to suggest that they should give Benue State an award for solving the problem of this nation. You can’t allow people to keep on destroying other people’s lives and property.
There’s this recent video of some suspected Boko Haram insurgents grouping at the Benue and Nasarawa Boundary. What is your take on that?
Yes, it was confirmed by the Nasarawa State governor when he ran to President Buhari recently and I commend him for raising that alarm. Because when Benue was being attacked and we were complaining that people were grouping there, the authority if Nasarawa would deny that the bandits were there. This time, this governor has come out to cry to the President that Boko Haram members are regrouping at the boundary of Nasarawa and Benue states. And I wish to call on the Federal Government
to act immediately. I wish to also request the governors of Benue and Nasarawa states to jointly look at that problem because it is going to affect both states. And I want to also call on the incoming Service chiefs to as a matter of urgency, look into that problem. This is one of the security challenges they have inherited. They have heard that Boko Haram is regrouping there. Let them go there and see what is happening and possibly try to stop it.
2023 is just by the corner. We would like to know from your own perspective, what kind of President Nigeria needs now.
I am not a politician but I see what politicians do and say and I want to encourage people to be wise this time. Nigeria is a country that has so many people and the main religious groups we have are Islam and Christianity. I think we have to pray to God for a president that will come and lead us through. We need a listening president, we need a president that is dedicated to the unity of this nation. We need a president that will come on board and improve on so many things that are lacking.
People have been talking about power rotation and all of that. Which region do you think the next president should come from?
As a keen observer of what happens in this country, I think there must be power shift in this nation. Goodluck Jonathan was from the South, now, Buhari is from the North. I think we have to be fair to the North central of Nigeria. I want if God will answer our prayer, that the next president must come from the North central because they are also bonafide citizens of this nation. We have so many qualified people in the North central that can occupy that seat. I also think we will need a younger president below the age of 60 so that he will come full of energy and be able to lead Nigeria. I’m praying that Nigeria will make the right choice this time around and by the grace of God, Nigeria will still remain Nigeria. But power must shift from one zone to another and this time, it should shift to the North central. That is our prayer.
In this era of COVID-19, what is Benue CAN doing to ensure churches in the state comply with the protocols of social distancing, regular hand washing and the rest of them?
COVID-19 has come to stay. In the midst of insurgency in Benue State and Nigeria, COVID-19 has added to the dangers in the lives of the people. However, I want to commend the church in Benue State for the cooperation with government to ensure that COVID-19 does not spread. I remember during the first wave of COVID-19, churches had to be shut down in Benue. And as leaders of the church, we went round churches to ensure that they complied and we found out that the level of compliance was almost 100 percent. However, there were some few churches that did not comply and some of them were arrested by the law enforcement agencies. That shows the level at which we wanted to comply. And now that the second wave of the disease has come, we had a meeting with state action committee on COVID-19 and we agreed to sensitize our members to observe COVID-19 protocols. As far as I know, churches are complying. However, there are a few that are not fully complying yet. You know every 12 disciples, there must be a Judas.