Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
President General of the Tiv socio-cultural organization known as Mzough U Tiv, Chief Edward Ujege has said that the planned withdrawal of troops from volatile areas across the country is mistimed and ill-advised. The former Director of Federal Highways who noted that a lot of Nigerians are still hounded in Internally Displaced Persons(IDP) camps across the country, warning that the nation would be in trouble if troops who have been fighting hard to keep insurgents, armed bandits and kidnappers at bay are withdrawn now. He also touched on other salient national issues.
In December last year, there was public outcry over FG’s planned withdrawal of troops from volatile spots where insurgents and armed bandits have been holding sway for some years now. A few days ago, the Chief of Naval Staff still reiterated the planned withdrawal to begin soon. Do you think our villages are safe enough for troops to be withdrawn now?
The situation as it is at the moment is that no camp has been disbanded. The IDPs are all there. The government and the people have tried their best for them to go back to their ancestral homes but it hasn’t been completely possible because the militants are still there. Although they are not attacking as much as possible because of the presence of the men of Operation Whirl Stroke, but they are still lying in wait. And immediately these soldiers and men of the defence are removed, we’re sure that they will start attacking. As I reported, there have been ten major attacks since the year 2019 which have been recorded in Benue State with many people killed as a result of those attacks. Subsequently, our people in IDP camps have no abodes to return to because most of their homes were destroyed. So, if they get back, they don’t have the resources to build. The Federal Government had promised N10 billion for the people to rebuild their homes and go back. I don’t know whether they have released it but from all indication, I believe nothing has been released. We are appealing to the Federal Government to take action as they have rightly said. If they do that, it would help a lot of the displaced persons to go back. So, we are urging the Federal Government that have done a good job by bringing Operation Whirl Stroke that once again, they should not remove them because if they remove them, we are going to be in very big trouble.
What’s your take on the FGs proposed visa on arrival for immigrants especially as the nation is still grappling with insecurity?
Let me first praise the Federal Government for the interim action they have taken. As I said before, if not for this Operation Whirl Stroke, I wouldn’t know where we would have been by now. So, I want to commend the President, the minister, the Chiefs of Army Staff, Air Staff and Naval Staff, Chief of Defence Staff and everybody that is left. I want to encourage them that they were on the right path. Government exists for the safety and security of the people. And so far, they were going on the right path. Our appeal is that this issue of withdrawal of troops should not go ahead and it should be reviewed after about a year or two because there can’t be anything more appropriate or more demanding than what is existing now. Above all. I think the whole issue about this planned withdrawal is mistimed and ill-advised. In as much you want to gradually withdraw troops, why do you have to announce to the whole world that you’re withdrawing the troops? It’s an invitation to act. They shouldn’t have even told anybody but would have done it gradually and quietly. But now that they have announced it to the whole world, it is not in the best interest of Benue, the middle belt and Nigeria.
Fro sometime now, the Federal Government has closed our borders to encourage local production. Do you support the border closure? If yes, why and if no, why?
Border closure is a sort of temporary step towards trying to curtail the excesses of some people. I do support that temporary step. And my reason for supporting it is that during this Christmas and New Year, there was no shortage of fuel. Additionally, Nigerians are spending a lot of money on fuel subsidy. And the subsidy is going into the fuel they export outside the country. We should have our own technology. Nigeria has no indigenous technology whatsoever. We are producing almost paper based engineers, architects and so on. The reason is that the administration and the government does not believe in the indigenous production of technology. Almost all the technology is being imported. We cannot even make a pin. Industries are not encouraged. The banks are not told to issue soft loans to indigenous small scale businesses to grow. By closing that border, we are having a rethink about innovation, innovation comes out of wants. Most of the development and advancements in technology worldwide came as a result of the first and Second World War where there was need for communication in the battlefield, there was need to introduce technology in the fighting equipment and AK47 and other weapons came as a result of the demand. So, this closure of border has created what is called demand and call for action by Nigerians to fill that vacuum. So, I support it wholeheartedly. It’s a temporary measure. I believe the Federal Government is studying the outcome of what is happening and from time to time, they will review it and reduce the amount of that closure. But it beats me hollow to see Nigerians consuming and consuming foreign goods and not producing anything. China and Japan for instance, when I was a small boy, what they used to do was that when you bought anything from China or Japan, it was known to be of poor quality. But today, the best cars, Nissan and Toyota come from Japan. From that Second World War when the two countries were destroyed by atomic bombs, they sat down and had a rethink, first of all by starting to produce substandard goods. And gradually, their technology improved. They don’t have oil to sell. They have only their senses to produce things at a certain level. The car we are using, I know when I was a small boy, even before you start a car, you had to turn something like a wheel. Now, you can start your car from sitting here. What is our own technology? We are just consumers. If you want to be treated healthwise, you have go abroad. If you want to buy a grader, you have to go abroad. We should be producing our own graders. We should be producing our own weapons. We should be producing our own aircrafts. We should be a king on our own roads. It will be cheaper for us do that than to call a white man to do them for us. And when our people see a white man, they treat them as superior beings. I had been to offices as an engineer of about 50 years after graduating in 1972. When I go out to see a minister and a foreigner with a white skin, sometimes a technical officer, and we both seat outside, they would call the white man first and I would come in second. And when I go and ask for something, the minister will not even grant it to me. Nigerians should believe in themselves. And they should believe that our health system, our technology, our manufacturing system and every other thing will work. Take sports for instance, sports is a unit where they produce a lot of employment. The people playing, the people making the shirts, the people making the shoes, the people making the field and so on. Those selling food during sporting events and so on. And sports takes the children off the streets into useful preoccupation. But we have abandoned sports. When we have a minister now, he only thinks of the national football team. When they are going for competition, he will go there with his own followers. Why don’t you make sure that sports starts from the grassroots, secondary schools, primary schools and so on? So, our President has to push these ministers, if not, our country is going in the wrong direction. Not that they are committing sin but they’re not making progress the way some of us want that progress to be made.
FGs proposed plan to borrow 29billion for infrastructure. A lot of Nigerians have spoken for and against. What is your take on this?
Borrowing money for infrastructure and is applied actually for infrastructure, is a good thing. But in this country (not only in this regime, I’m not running anybody down), when you borrow money and you don’t use it for what it’s meant for, that’s where the problem is. This constituency projects are the worst thing that is happening to Nigeria. I don’t know what they do with that money. When we were in government we made sure that only the major government projects were implemented. Constituency project is part of the state government and local government funds. If the Federal Government wants to fund projects, it should send grants to the local governments and the state government for whatever is to be done. Not the individual in the National Assembly to say this is constituency project, and then he begins to dictate what is to be done with that money. And sometimes nothing is done with the money. And then, they go and dictate which contractor and whether the job is done at all. That is not correct. Why don’t you go and make laws, they have been sent there to go and make laws and not to go and execute projects. How can they even check the executive when they themselves are involved in the execution of projects?
Renovation of the National Assembly with N37billion. Do you support that move?
This is all part of what I was saying a while ago. How can the renovation of National Assembly be almost equal to the amount of money for the maintenance of federal roads? How? Is that a priority? You have been sent there to serve the people and instead, you’re serving yourself. So, it’s completely wrong. We have road reform bill whereby there would be adequate funds for the maintenance of roads and we call it road user charges. That is, the amount of damage you apply to the road, you help to repair that road. And that charge is proportional to the amount of fuel that you buy. So, if there’s a small amount of money in every liter of fuel that you buy. This is put into what is called road fund which is being managed by a board. That money will be enough to maintain roads. Not only that, toll gates and other sources of funds can be put together so that money is now used to maintain roads. There’s no way where without maintenance of roads, the road network will be good. And these are done abroad. That bill was there, I pursued it when I was a Director but till date, that bill has not been passed. What reason? The politicians know the reason why. But until that bill is passed, outer roads will continue to be bad. And the little money that is there in consolidated revenue, will be used for doing scam projects like the maintenance of the National Assembly which is not a priority. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a priority.
Permutations have started ahead of the 2023 general elections. We would like to know what is the plan of the Middle belt this time with regards to the presidential seat?
I’m not a politician and I don’t want to be. And at my age. I don’t think I should get worried about those things. If people create problems for themselves, let that problem follow them. I think we should be thinking of production and how to make our society good. And whoever is in the course of making our society in order to change it for the better, the best thing is to follow that person. If we have a good person who has the interest of this nation at heart, we should go for him. It shouldn’t be that we are going for somebody all because he has come from this zone or that zone. There are a lot of good people that can change the course of Nigeria. We can be in a world power. That’s the person we are looking for. It shouldn’t be about zoning. All I’m saying is that in 2023, I’m expecting that in Benue too, we will find somebody who can run the affairs as good, if not better than what is happening today no matter where he’s coming from; tribe not withstanding.