Chief Ndukwe Ikoh is an industrialist and prominent political figure in Abia State. He had contested as a candidate on the platform of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) for the governorship and House of Representative seat respectively. He speaks on the importance of maintaining zoning arrangement in the country, saying it would enhance political stability in Nigeria. He also proffers solutions to the increasing rate of insecurity across the country.
There has been an increase in killings allegedly by Fulani herdsmen in many parts of the country and the critics of the administration say that the government has not shown any serious commitment towards addressing the issue. Do you agree?
I do not dispute the fact that the President has not handled the issue of the killings properly, maybe because he is a Fulani man, but at the same time, I also know that there is no northern president that would ever address the issue of Fulani herdsmen properly because of northern sentiments when it comes to culture and religion. This makes it very difficult for them to change to new cultures because they are very conservative. The belief of the northern politician is that if you go against the Fulani, you are going against your base and that is the reason there has been very slow and almost non-existent action against foreign cattle rearing activities in the country. Nigeria is not the country with the largest number of cows and I do not think that we are anywhere near the countries that have developed that aspect of their agricultural economy. The government is not doing enough to curb the killings and they would never do enough and that is the fact.
The cattle rearers are doing their private businesses and I do not see why they would not take care of all that is required to do the business successfully. The Nigerian government should not be involved in that, but we now have a situation where the government is supporting people doing their private businesses because they are cattle rearers. If you analyse the situation properly, you would see that people are bound to be angry.
Are you implying that no northern president would have the political will to tackle the issue of herdsmen’s killings?
With the way things stand today, it would be difficult for a northern president to back a policy that will put a stop to these clashes between nomadic cattle rearers and their host communities. Cattle is not the only livestock that farmers rear; there are pigs, fish, snail, poultry etc. and you don’t see people going out of their boundaries to infringe on other people’s rights to coexist. However, because we live in a dynamic world, I want to believe that with time, people would get to understand that there are other ways that you can do this business without conflict.
On the issue of establishing cattle colonies, I will tell you why people are not comfortable with it. A lot of people ask why there is always crisis in states like Plateau, Kaduna, Benue between people who were originally there as settlers and the indigenes of the place. First, these people came as visitors and as time went by; they became a community and installed their own traditional rulers. They bring in their culture and tradition and before you know it, they overrun the original indigenes of that area (aborigines). That is the story of Nigeria and that is why people are being fearful about establishing colonies. Northerners don’t operate alone; when you employ one person, that person starts by bringing in his relative one after the other and before you know it, they have become a community. If colonies are established, maybe 10 to 20 people would settle there first, and because you would not be there to monitor those who come in, before you know it, they would have grown in number. The next thing they would do is to install an Emir, then they would hoist a flag, then they would begin to influence the aborigines with their own culture and before you know it, they would want to take over your state. That is why Nigerians, especially those from the south, are not comfortable with the idea of setting up cattle colonies in their states. No right thinking southern governor would approve the establishment of colonies because of the culture of these people.
My father told me about some communities in the north who eat pork and welcomed northern settlers from other communities who abhor pork to settle in their land. Gradually, the eating of pork became a source of conflict among the indigenes of that community and the settlers. These sorts of issues abound and even the presidency knows that it is the main reason people are afraid to have cattle colonies unless we want to live in denial. There are also economic implications of establishing colonies. The north has more land for grazing than the south, so it would be difficult for a zone like the south-east that is looking for land to build industries and corporations to now donate land free of charge to Fulani herdsmen. Even if it is not free of charge, it is the right of the owners of the land to choose to sell their land or not. The government has to find a modern way of doing this business that would not necessitate people moving from place to place.
Not long ago, former President, Olusegun Obasanjo wrote a letter to President Buhari asking him not to contest the 2019 election, just as he accused him of non-performance. He also condemned both the APC and the PDP, saying that a third force would win the presidency. Do you think it is possible for a third force to win the presidential election?
Obasanjo is one of the very few Nigerians that I have great respect for because I see him as a detribalised statesman and someone that you have to take seriously anytime he speaks. A lot of Nigerians see him as a sinful preacher of a righteous message. When you talk about Obasanjo, people would start mentioning how badly he performed as president and they cite the incidences of Zak Ibiam, Odi and other atrocities that happened in the country under his watch. If you ask the founding members of the PDP, they would tell you that there was an internal zoning arrangement within the party that a president would do a four-year term and the presidency would move to another zone. That means that at the end of six tenures, all the zones would have produced a president; but when Obasanjo completed his first tenure, he found out that he could not do much because of the country’s complex problems, then he got a second tenure. Atiku wanted to run against him, but he eventually stepped down for Obasanjo. After the second tenure, he was not still satisfied with performance, so he wanted a third tenure.
Conversely, you would find a deep message in the letter that he wrote to Buhari which is the heart cry of every Nigerian because there are areas in which Buhari has not done well and people were waiting for such an opportunity to voice their disappointment in the government. Most Nigerians believe that the government should have done better in many areas, but that does not mean that we would not acknowledge those areas in which they have done well.
However, the Fulani herdsmen/farmers crisis is a very big security failure and if there were any gains we have achieved in terms of security, the herdsmen crisis have destroyed it. We cannot reduce the security of a nation like Nigeria to fighting Boko Haram in the north-east alone. The Fulani herdsmen crisis is a very serious situation that is not being handled properly.On the economic front, this administration has tried to move the country out of recession, but people are saying that even then, there has been no improvement in the economic situation of the average Nigerian. Obasanjo also accused Buhari of nepotism and I would agree because there are clear instances where one could say that it is a fact. The letter should be seen as a wakeup call for the government to be on their toes because it is Nigerians who are bearing the brunt of their actions or inactions as the case may be. Buhari’s age and health is an impediment to his performance, therefore, we need a younger person who is more up to date but also has the same attributes as him in terms of probity and accountability. I love Buhari and I still see him as a great man.
Do you foresee any issue that will arise if Buhari decides not to contest?
If Buhari does not contest for any reason, it would be detrimental to the political calculation of the south-east because the assumption is that after two tenures, power should shift from the north to another zone. If another northerner becomes president in 2019, the person would love to have two tenures which is eight years and that would mean that power will be in the north for 12 years; I think the north would like that. If we say that Buhari should be given another four years to keep wobbling till his tenure is over, then definitely, power would come back to the south. That would soothe the southerners. So, while we push for Buhari not to contest, we must also take the points I’ve mentioned into cognizance. It may not be written, but there is a zoning culture in the subconscious mind of Nigerians when it comes to executive offices.
As a stakeholder in Abia State, do you also support the culture of zoning among the three senatorial districts?
There is a mental zoning process even among politicians which is that after eight years, your senatorial zone is done with the governorship till next time. If Ikpeazu doesn’t contest, another Ngwa man will take over from him and whoever emerges would like to contest for two terms and that will translate to 12 years of governorship for Ngwa people. That would shortchange the other zones in the state. If you say, you’ll move the governorship to Abia North, it would not only be unfair because that zone produced a governor 10 years ago, and it would put Abia North on a collision course with Abia South. Ikpeazu is lucky because as regards the governorship, I do not think that there is vacancy in Abia because he is doing well. Most of the critics of his government are people who sit in their comfort zones and do not bother to take the pains and go round the state to see things for themselves. I have had the opportunity to go round Aba and I saw the mess there before he became governor and I also saw the efforts being put in place to clear up the mess. For me, he is doing extremely well in that regard. He has also extended the infrastructural development to other parts of the state like my village in Ohafia. This is a governor that used the first three years of his first tenure, fighting all kinds of cases in court and he is still fighting at the moment. You cannot wave that aside and say it should not affect governance because that is a major distraction and some governors in his shoes would have decided not to perform because they do not know their fate. In terms of security, he also did well, especially in the way he handled IPOB members with tact. If he had not handled it well, maybe the government would have declared a state of emergency.