Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Prof. Daniel Saror, former vice chancellor of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, and now teaching at the Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi, is a Senator and one of the founding fathers of the defunct All Nigerian Progressive Party (ANPP).
In this interview with Sunday Sun, he warned the North to be very cautious and careful about how it treats the rotation of the presidency in 2023.
The elder statesman also posited that the way and manner the issue is handled could make or mar the unity of the country.
He, therefore, urged the North to be wary of engendering nepotism, especially in a widely diverse country like Nigeria with more than 300 ethnic groups. He also spoke on many other salient national issues. Excerpts:
The country is gearing up towards 2023 and the geopolitical zones are crying out because of marginalization in the scheme of things, where do you think the presidency should go to in 2023?
Well, it is clear that the 2023 election is at hand and what is paramount is the issue of justice. We must be just to every part of this country, I am from the Middle Belt, we have ruled this country for some time, the Northeast and Northwest have done it, the Southwest have done it and the South-south has also done it. Let me be clear that it is high time we recognised the Southeast if we want to claim that we are one Nigeria. Nobody will want to live in a country where there is absolute subjection and suppression of his people, nobody will want to see that country as his own country. We have agreed to live as citizens of one country and we have not reached a stage where we will say let the best come out, we are still sharing and everybody has got his own and when it gets to my turn then you say you don’t want to give me, that will cause problem. As a politician, I won’t want to see this country in disarray, let everybody be carried along and when we do that I am very sure that we will be doing justice to every ethnic nationality in this country. I see no reason somebody will deny the Southeast the opportunity to govern this country, they have contributed a lot to the growth and development of this country and economic-wise. Let nobody begin to misunderstand me, I am from the Middle Belt, my wife is from the Middle Belt, I don’t have any relation in the Southeast, but they are citizens of Nigeria and if we want peace, let us do what will engender peace. You see the agitation from Nnamdi Kanu is not child play, sometimes people will say what will these people do? They can do anything. The way we came in as a country following the almagamation of Nigeria in 1914, there was no place where we write our signatures as people of different geopolitical zones, therefore, if somebody is aggrieved that he or she has not been carried along, he or she has the right to complaint and if you don’t want to listen to him then let him go because they have asked that they want to leave. Therefore, Nigerians must treat this matter with care, we must look at it very critical, you should not beat me and stop me from crying. I strongly believe as a person that justice should be done and it should be done that we carry everybody along.
There are forces coming from the Southwest to clinch the presidency again. Tinibu and Vice President Osinbajo are warming up?
I have spoken my mind, they have the constitutional right to aspire, but it will be an injustice to the people of the Southeast except if the people of the Southeast are now saying the country is between North and South, which I am saying I am not a Northerner, I am a Middle Belter and I believe that strongly in my heart. This is because when something comes to the North, they do not consider me as a northerner, it is only when they are looking for my vote or the number or my land mass to take to the South that I will be considered as a northerner, it will be good for me to identify myself with the Middle Belt even if we are 10 or five we will say this is who we are and we believe in who we are. But for the presidency, you mentioned Tinibu and the Vice President, I think they should go and rest and allow the Southeast to produce the next president. There are credible and very important people who are trust worthy from the Southeast that can govern this country, but it is up to Nigerians. This is my own personal opinion, it is not the opinion of my own ethnic group, it is not the opinion of my constituency, but I am representing them and this is what I feel is the best for the country to live in peace. The Southeast is also producing wealth for this country, there is oil there and you cannot be taking from my ancestral land and you say I cannot be there to also lead in sharing the wealth to other parts of this country. That is why the agitation is there and we may feel that we have thrash from Nnamdi Kanu, but let me tell you that there are more than a million Nnamdi Kanus still in the Southeast and I think he has some in the Middle Belt because we will not continue to tolerate this, let’s tell ourselves the truth. If it were a particular ethnic group in the North that was subjected to this Nigeria wouldn’t be standing today.
The PDP had party state congresses and some people are feeling aggrieved, how can that be addressed?
Well, party politics in Nigeria has always been a problem and that has affected governance and the foundation of election starts from party congresses, party primaries before the election. The problem is that the constitution of these political parties were written by the same persons, be it in APC or PDP, and some of the parties don’t have ideologies. Like the APC, it was a combination of multiple political parties that formed the APC. There is no perfect situation even on advanced democracy, you will have people disagreeing, but the beauty of their own democracy is that at the end of the day, if somebody emerges, no matter how bad the method was used to bring that candidate, the people will support him to ensure good governance, but in our own case, you will see the person leaving the party to another, but every party has its own issue. Now, at the state level in Plateau, as far as I am concerned, election had been conducted and the new Exco is on ground and those of us, members in the PDP, we must rally round the Exco because they didn’t put themselves there, no matter our level of grievances, you will still need the Exco.
There has been a lot of insinuations that the Railway that the Federal Government intends to construct from Nigeria will encourage invasion of Foreign Fulani into Nigeria, what is your take on that?
That is the truth. I listened to the President’s spokesman, Garba Shehu trying to defend the Federal Government initiative on that rail construction, we should all know that it is going to be constructed with borrowed money, that means that all of us are going to pay for that rail, it is tax payers’ money that is going to be used and we have not been consulted. You recall that during the 2019 election, a lot of Niger people came to Nigeria and they said they came in solidarity to make sure that Buhari wins the election in Nigeria, which is a terrible thing. I remember when INEC was addressing us here in Jos, it was so rowdy that we had to exchange words with the governor on the issue. With that action, has our sovereignty not been tampered with if a sovereign country coming in thousands in solidarity with the person that we are going to elect as our president. Is it the Niger people coming to put a president for Nigeria or is he a president elected by Nigerians? The railway thing is just to continue the aspects of bringing foreigners into Nigeria to come and vote, some people have argued that it will boost trade between Nigeria, but the volume of trade we have with Benin Republic is far more than that of Niger.
There has been a contentious Water Resources Bill in the National Assembly, if that bill is passed into law, do you think it will be in the interest of your constituency?
I don’t think so. Before the Bill was presented to us after our recess, it was thrown away, it was said that it was suspended, but the argument on the floor that day suggested that it has been thrown away. I believe the sponsor of that bill knows deep inside him that it is inimical to the development of this country. A bill that seeks to empower the Federal Government to take over the control of all waterways in the country and quite kilometers of lands from the waterways would also be taken by the Federal Government, that is already at variance with the constitution of this country because all land matters belong to the state and the state government is keeping that in trust for the citizens, the Federal Government has no land anywhere in this country based on our constitution, but for someone to just wake up one day and said that the Federal Government is going to control all waterways in this country, for who? The bill itself looks very suspicious, as far as members of the House of Representatives are concerned the bill was death on arrival and you could see the celebration by Nigerians that means that it was an unpopular bill. The suspension people had on the bill was to institutionalize the hegemony of the Fulani ethnic group in all areas in Nigeria. Otherwise, who will he give the waterways, why will the Federal Government take control of such places? Some people are alleging that the president wants to take over the waterways so that this foreign Fulani that are coming into the country can settle there. I have said that the bill is a time bomb, it is capable of throwing this country into war, but I think the House of Representatives have done its best and the bill has been thrown out, by the rule of the House, it can never come again except in another Assembly.
Jol community in your constituency petitioned the Federal Government over a school that was built by SDG and named after a Fulani man without their consent, has that issue been resolved?
It is true that a school was built at Rankum and has 12 classrooms. It was built just within three weeks during the lockdown when issue of COVID-19 was at the peak and people were asked to remain indoor. The community actually petitioned the Federal Government because it has cried out that the Federal Government was aiding and abating land grabbing within their community and it has continuously denied that it is not aiding the Fulani to grab land from the communities. But the issue of that school became very obvious to be denied. Secondly, the SDG is in the office of the Presidency and it is the SDGs that built the school; the community now said that we have accused you of helping Fulani to take over our lands and now you the Presidency has built a school in our community and named it after a Fulani man without consulting the traditional rulers, without consulting the Primary School board, your SDGs office in Plateau State was not consulted and the Local Government was not consulted, you went ahead and built a school. When you did that, you changed the name of the area to the name you want and to add salt to injury, you decided to name the school after a Fulani man who claimed to be the leader of the community. The community wanted to ask who asked for that school, why was it built without consulting the traditional rulers and even the Local government? When we noticed that the Federal Government was using SDGs to grab our land, I led the team to their office and the matter has been resolved because the Fulani representative came and said they are not contesting the land with the community and they are not contesting the name of the school, but the school was in existence. We led the team back home for a meeting at the Local Government Secretariat and it was agreed that both the name of the school and the name of the area be changed to its original name and should be handed over formally to the Local Government.
You recalled that Gashis community was attacked in 2018 and about 300 persons were allegedly killed and the Federal Government promised N10 billion for the rehabilitation of the displaced persons, has the promise been fulfilled?
That pledge has not been fulfilled and I brought this issue on the first day of our plenary before the House of Representatives and it was well debated. The prayers were clearly stated in view of the fact that the Vice President visited Plateau when over 300 persons were massacred in Gashis community where the promise of the N10 billion and Mobil Police Barracks was made. The prayers were that we need that N10 billion to be redeemed so that the people can be rehabilitated to their ancestral homes. I have removed the extract of that motion and attached it with a formal letter through the office of the President, but I want to tell you that nothing has been done even a reply to my letter. But I am thinking of sending another letter using the extract of the motion because it’s now the property of the House of Representatives and I feel strongly that the Federal Government should respect that. As of the time I presented that memo, it was over one year that the people were wallowing in the IDPs camps and some people are saying that they have relocated the IDPs, let me tell you as we talk now my people are still in IDP camps because they were relocated into one primary school in the community, that is why we are still begging that the Federal Government should release the N10 billion to take care of the people.
Recently, a traditional ruler was murdered by gunmen in your constituency, how can there be ensuing peace in your constituency?
The murder of the monarch who was the acting District Head of Foron was a very sad thing that happened, all this while we thought we have some peace. That killing was unprovoked because there was nothing that happened that warranted that. But I am aware that there were some Fulnai herdsmen that came and settled in Bisichi and the traditional ruler wrote a petition to the security agencies asking them that these are stranger elements that came and settled in his domain and demanded that the elements identify themselves with the community so that there will be no outbreak of crisis within the area. That same day, he was invited by security agencies, the STF officials and had a discussion, but unfortunately, it was that same day he was killed. He had a phone call and he went out to receive the call and he was killed. Before then, a lot of things have happened in my constituency, Barkin-Ladi and Riyom because killings were going on unabated in the area, a lot of farm lands have been destroyed. So, it is difficult to say what was the reason behind the killing of the monarch, but I have attended a meeting at the STF because of an attempt to invade part of my constituency that has border with Jos East LGA. And the monarch that was killed had revealed that most of the attackers that come to kill people find their way from Jos East to Barkin-Ladi. I am sure that those who killed the monarch will be brought to book, it is a security matter at the moment.
Governor Simon Lalong said that arrests have been made in connection to the killing of the monarch, are you aware?
It has become a reoccurring decimal in government circle to say they are on top of the situation or to say they have arrested some people to just douse tension, but after the arrest, you will find those same people doing their normal life without any form of prosecution. This problem has continued because nobody has been prosecuted, right from 2001 that crisis broke out, people were killed and the stomach of pregnant women were butchered and unborn children slaughtered, a very good number of people have been arrested, but we have never seen anybody prosecuted, I cannot recall one that has been punished. It is not just an issue of arresting these people, we want to see a formal prosecution of the people. Also, I have submitted names of some criminal elements that have been perpetrating heinous act within my constituency to the security agencies and nothing has been done.