From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Dr. Tivlumun Nyitse is a two time governorship aspirant and a retired Permanent Secretary in the Benue State Civil Service. The university lecturer, in this exclusive interview insisted that although it should be the turn of the Igbo to take the presidency, they shouldn’t expect to get it on a platter of gold but must be ready to lobby other geopolitical zones by convincing them that they mean well for the entire country.
The issue of armed banditry which has resulted in Kidnap and sometimes even killing of people especially in Benue, Zamfara, Kaduna and other states is becoming a recurring decimal. What do you think can be done about this?
I think from the beginning, there has been a mistake from the government because in every society, there must be cause and effect. There must be punishment for infringement of the law. When people who commit offences are not punished, it will encourage other people to go into same crime. That is the problem we have and that is what has led to issues of uncontrolled banditry, kidnapping and all that. It started gradually; people were kidnapping people here and there. It started down in South south. Initially, it was not very tough but there are no convictions and it appears that government is in support of the kidnappers. Have you ever seen where those kidnappers have been arrested and tried? I have not heard, they have not been convicted for kidnapping as a crime. So, they can’t just be talking, there must be action, there must be cause and effect. If they say the kidnapping is a crime, who and who has been convicted for kidnapping? See Evans, see this other guy that was caught in Taraba; he is still under trial, no conviction. There is no where people are being punished for these crimes; nobody is being convicted for being a kidnapper. So, the whole thing has become like a trade.
A lot of people are saying that Nigeria is on a life support because of this, what can be done to redeem the situation?
The issue in Nigeria is quite serious because Nigerians themselves have lost faith in the country; they have lost faith in the government because government is the provider of leadership, government provides environment that people will feel encouraged and be proud of their country. But where everything seemed to have collapsed in terms of infrastructure, education, health, everything, then there is problem in the country. Nobody is interested again, not even in the government. How do we come together to resolve these issues? The government must provide leadership for people to talk and dialogue; there is nobody that has monopoly of knowledge or knowing what is good. You and I know what is good for ourselves. Every segment in Nigeria knows what is good for its community. These communities must be allowed to come together to discuss what is good for them so as to come to a consensus. People cannot bring down the structures of Nigeria and force people to accept what is not discussed. We are not animals and even animals, if you keep on pushing a goat to the wall, it could bite. Even a dog, if you live in a community where dogs are allowed to stroll around, anytime a dog passes in front of your house you hit it with a stick, the dog will stop passing through your house because you are an enemy. Even a week ago, there had been killings in Miango community in Plateau State, a lot of people have been killed but the government is not saying anything. People were killed in their homes but the government had not said anything. But the one that appeared like a reprisal, the Federal Government came out with a statement because the ones killed were Muslims and all that but those other human beings were not important. The Federal Government is just showing partiality, they are taking sides for people based on whatever reasons they have. We should be treated equally; no Nigerian should be different from the other because some people are feeling that it is their own country and any other person must submit to them. People are being killed in Benue on a daily basis in their homes in Makurdi, Guma, Gwer West and other Local Government Areas; everyday, somebody is being killed in one way or the other. Those people don’t even spare anybody, they come and kill the women, kill the children, kill everybody! What kind of behaviour is that? And when you talk, they say you are doing politics. The government is held responsible for the security of the country and as long as there’s no security, people will continue to complain. The governor doesn’t command the police; the commissioner of police is being controlled by the IGP in Abuja, the director of DSS is being controlled by DG in Abuja, the Head of the Armed Forces has Commander somewhere and governors provide them logistics but the orders don’t come from the governors. So, these are the issues but if you talk of security, people will say governor collects security vote. I worked with the government; there are so many issues that are happening in the state that you are not seeing that money is being pushed in there for security. Everywhere in the world, every government has funds that are not accounted for. America does the same thing, China is even worse in terms of security; they donate huge sums of money but nobody knows about it. How much is the armour carrier vehicle? How many of them can a governor buy? Yes of course, there is room for abuse in every system.
Do you think that dialogue can still work especially with people talking about religious inclination?
Yes, dialogue can still work if we are all sincere. Even at family level, you must not agree with your brother or sister but there must be a meeting point where you will agree and disagree. We talk about the judiciary or state Houses of Assembly having autonomy; so we have to sit down and work out the logistics, look at the criteria. Yes, you cannot have everything you want but once you have the barest minimum, you will feel better. This country is better together; our size alone is a huge potential for Nigeria if properly harnessed right from time. We have the largest economy in Africa. Lagos as a state comes as number 5 in Africa as an economy, so we have the potential to be a great nation and do everything if the leadership is right; we have not got it right right from Independence. Nigeria has not got it right; it is for us to sit and think about ways of getting it right. If we are looking for leaders to come from Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba, Christian, Muslim, Animist, we are going to to be in a vicious circle of underdevelopment. There are religions in countries like America but they are living together; there are differences in UK but they’re living together. This system is a federal system but we are running a favourite system in a unitary style. The issue of tax, collection of revenue by the Federal Government wouldn’t have arisen; let everybody generate his revenue and give
a part of it to the Federal Government. This Federal Government has not helped matters, they’re not listening to the people, they don’t care about Nigerians. If people are saying they’re tired of a leader, he has to go. The Federal Government is nonchalant and is completely repugnant of people’s feelings. Imagine what statements that people like Garba Shehu make any time there is an issue and I say government spokesman? I was one before at the state level, you don’t join argument with people, you tell government position. Your own is to say look, government means well, they want to do this and these are our policies; anytime you come out you try to explain something, you don’t insult people, you don’t insult people. I have not seen any government that is poorly managed like this government but when you complain, they insult you. You did not come to power through the gun and you owe them duty to explain to them what you are doing at all times and not insult them.
Do you think that President Buhari still has what it takes to confront the issues affecting this country?
He has his tenure, so whether he is not capable of confronting the issues, he is there and Osinbajo is there. The primary responsibility of the government is to solve problems of the people; that is why his predecessor was voted out and he came in to correct the ills and do better. But he keeps on complaining; if he didn’t have any idea, why did he come in? If the other man has done so badly, the people voted him out and gave you a chance to come in and you’re still blaming the person that has gone? So, what did you come in for? Did you just come in to enjoy the laws of power and the grandeur of power? I mean as far as I’m concerned, Buhari said he would make Naira and dollar one to one, but as I’m talking to you, it is N570 per dollar. So, the economy has collapsed; no production, we are not producing anything. In the 80s up to early 90s, we were producing Peugeot Mercedes, Volkswagen, and textile. Go to Kaduna today, the textile industries are moribund. We are not producing anything, our economy is not productive and it’s going down. So, the Naira will continue to tumble because we are only consumptive, we are heading towards the Zambian and other currencies like in Zimbabwe where one dollar became 1million Zimbabwe Dollar; when people wanted to buy bread, they would carry money in wheelbarrow to buy a loaf of bread. That’s where we are heading to now and it’s just because we are not producing anything. We have everything in this country; the steel in Ajaokuta, this thing is still there. Every year they say it’s 90 per cent completed; two ministers came and went there but they were saying the same thing today about 20 years ago. So, unless these infrastructure like the steel company in Ajaokuta is functioning and producing steel, then we are in trouble. Our agriculture has completely collapsed. Our cocoa is ranked about third or fourth in grade in the whole world behind Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire but where are we? Our palm oil in the East is no longer there. As I speak with you, we are importing palm oil from Malaysia because what we are producing cannot feed us.
So don’t you think that at this juncture, it’s high time for our leaders to begin to make arrangement for our peaceful disintegration ?
It’s not an easy thing; for me, I am not an apostle of disintegration. Let everything work together, let’s talk about true federalism where people should control resources that belong to them. The state cannot be equally rich at the same time at all levels. Some states will be richer than others, some states will be poorer than others, that’s how it should be everywhere in the world even in America. So, if they’re producing oil in your country in your backyard, people will go there and be employed and they will not flock to Abuja. If Benue is known for agricultural production and we’re able to get our agro-processing factories and industries in Benue and people are being employed, young people will not go to Abuja to become security guards. They will be here employed in Zaki Biam, Oturkpo, Katsina-Ala, Gboko, everywhere. But as it is now, states in Nigeria are not solvent, they cannot survive but every state has potential for greatness. Nasarawa state is the most downward state in mineral resources in Nigeria but if we begin to use these mineral resources, Nasarawa State can be as rich as Lagos. If you travel to some countries of the world and you travel by road in some areas, 10 kilometers of land is cultivated. There’s nothing like that here even in Benue state. Talk of agriculture, Benue state is known as Food Basket of the Nation because of the soil. Every crop in Nigeria can grow in Benue State from Cocoa to groundnut to Palm to cereals to tubers to citrus and besides, our yam, our citrus and mangoes are the sweetest in the world. Our yam is the sweetest in the world, our orange is the sweetest because of the soil. So, we can be great if this natural endowment is exploited maximally. There will be value addition, people will be employed and money will be there and so we can develop at our own pace based on our own resources. We must decide what we want but I think true federalism is the answer and in fact, physical federalism. People will feel the impact for a while but we shall get over it. Nobody should be scared about oil.
We don’t pay tax in Nigeria, if you travel abroad and you park your car, every car parked in UK for example is marked two hours free, beyond these two hours, you will pay a fine. At this time of the day, four hours free, after four hours, you will pay and once you pass that time you will have a ticket. I went to UK some years ago, I went to the market with a friend in his car to buy some things, he parked his car on the road and was timing himself, we were rushing to return to the car because we had five minutes left for the time. As we were heading to the car, the tax collectors were coming to the car. The man got to the car one minute before is and they gave my friend a ticket. If you don’t pay in two months, money is increasing because there must be cause and effect. But in Nigeria, there is no punishment, if they say don’t park your car in Wurukum for more than 30 minutes, nobody will park their cars and go out because they will have to pay tax. The government can make money through taxes.
The issue of grazing routes seems to be coming up again. The President said that grazing routes have to be re-established, what is your take on this?
The Federal Government should concern itself with issues that concern them. The land use act has given the land to all the states in the country, so, Federal Government cannot come from Abuja and create grazing routes in Benue. The land in Benue belongs to the governor. That is what the law says. If you want to get land, you must request for land and if it’s available, they will give you. So, you cannot come from Abuja and say you want to do a grazing route across river Benue or across my village because you want the Fulani to pass there, it cannot work and nobody is doing this pastoral business that Nigeria is still doing. Ranching is the only way, the best practice all over the world because of its advantages.
2023 is just by the corner and a lot of people have begun to show interest to contest one position or another especially the South East is now asking for presidency since they have never taken a shot at it before. In your own perspective, where do you think our next president should come from?
Sincerely, I don’t believe in zoning as a person. But since Nigeria practises zoning, and to be rational and fair, the Northerners have had a shot at the presidency; the South-south had it, the Southwest had it. So, naturally, I expect that it should go to the South East. But how do you play your politics? How is the Southeast playing their politics? You cannot fold your hands and say you should be given president. How are they working towards achieving that desire? How is the conduct of the average South Easterners to the Nigerian Project? Igbo man had been Vice president in this country, Ekwueme was vice president for 4 years and 3 months under Shagari, so you cannot say they are still fighting war because 9 years after the civil war, an Igbo man became the vice president of Nigeria. So, Igbo people have been everything in Nigeria. They have been ministers, they have been everything except in this regime and people are not arguing very well. We have been very contextual in our analysis. If you are talking about certain things in this government, the North-central has faced the worst. So, do we say they don’t like us in this country? The Igbo people that are complaining too, they have right but their own issue is that no Igbo man is in the Security Council. But, if Nigeria is to be run as a country, it doesn’t matter who is there. The point is that are they doing the right thing? But you can’t be there and be thinking that you are Hausa or you are Tiv. No, you are a Nigerian charged with the security of this country. But truly, because of the way Nigeria is, people have to reflect on the general interest of Nigeria so as to erase the fear of the people. There should be a balance but that balancing should not be an issue. The issue should be are the people of South East being addressed properly? If they are doing it properly, nobody will care to know who is there. If the issue of insecurity in Benue is being handled properly, we will not bother to know who is the police IGP or who is in charge of the Army or the Armed forces because our problem is being addressed. But where they segregate, then there is problem. So the Igbo, the South-easterners can become president if they play their cards well. They are calling for a complete separation while we are in a federation now. You are creating all sorts of things, you are attacking the Federal Government, the police, commercial structures, killing people everyday. So, what are you fighting for? Is that how you can become president? So, people are suspicious of their motives. These actions are not supporting their cause. They are already creating suspicion in the minds of Nigerians what their motives are. But for me, if you ask me, I will say the presidency should go to the South East. But it is not the issue, it is not come and take, you must play your politics well for Nigerians to see that those people are ripe for presidency.