Former Senate President, Dr Iyorchia Ayu speaks sparingly in public about national issues. Whenever he chooses to speak, he is often down to earth.
In this interview with IHEANACHO NWOSU in Abuja, Ayu who also served as minister at different times spoke on burning matters and happenings in the country especially killings by herdsmen, former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s letter to President Muhammadu Buhari asking him not to seek re-election. He claimed that Buhari’s re-election will spell doom for the country’s unity even as he said it will consume the National Leader of All Progressives Congress (APC) Asiwaju Bola Tinubu. He carpeted Obasanjo under whose administration he held three different ministerial portfolios, describing him as the architect of Nigeria’s current problems.
Prominent Nigerians including you in the last couple of weeks have reacted to killings in some parts of the country especially your state, Benue. Should this be taken that the killings have gotten out of hand?
Nigeria is today facing a very serious national security challenge. It is not located in only one part of the country. Initially, it was as if it was only the North East and Niger Delta areas. Today, this challenge is touching on every part of the country. There are killings in Plateau , Southern Kaduna, Benue , Adamawa ,Taraba , heavily in Zamfara which is an Hausa populated state . There are killings in Katsina , Abia ,Imo. The killings are all over the country.
Killings in Benue have been going on in the last 10 years. But when they escalated, it became necessary to draw the attention of not just Benue indigenes but to everybody. I directed my address to all Nigerians to try and draw attention to this crisis, which is threatening the unity of the country. I will try to explain it in both its regional and national contexts.
First of all, you have to understand that this problem is beyond Nigeria . It is located in the whole of the Sahel region which cuts across most of West Africa particularly Bukina Faso , Mali, Niger, Chad, Dafur ,Northern Nigeria. Most of these places are affected by the increasing problem of the drying up of the water resources , degradation of the forest. This has affected agriculture . This is an area with a population of over 100 million people .
If you look at the climate changes that have taken place in our northern neighbours between 1970 and 1993 you would see that we have had massive drying up of lands in these areas. There have been occasional droughts . These are dramatized all over the world . This invariably is affecting the rural population and its economy.
Most of the rivers in these areas have dried up. The cutting of forests , the drying up of major bodies of water like Lake Chad is a huge problem . In 1963, Lake Chad had a surface body of water of 25,000 square kilometers which served as the bedrock of the economy of the North East , Chad, Niger, Cameroun. The Lake Chad has been drying up over the years. No serious action was taken by the Lake Chad Basin Commission. Today, Lake Chad has barely 1000 square meter of surface water . From 25,000 square meters in 1963 to less than 1000 today . The fishing economy there has gone, the grazing is gone, forestry gone. This affects over two million people.
Related to this is the fact that most of the countries in these areas have gone through tremendous political instability; Dafur , Mali, Chad are worse hit. As a result of the crises that engulfed these countries, they have trained, seasoned fighters.
Most of the migration is coming down South. It is not only decent people that are coming, a lot of cattle and bad people are coming too. Every year, you have a population of two to three million migrants moving down this area.
We are having a mixture of the good and the bad And with ECOWAS protocol , what it means invariably is that you can’t stop these people from coming here. Since they are coming in large numbers with their cattle , you have some that are criminals , terrorists .
This instability has also elements of religion because of the rise of radical Islam in the world particularly in North Africa. We all saw what happened in Mali between 2010 and 2012 when the Islamic radical movement there tried to establish a republic . France had to move in troops in 2013 in most of Southern Mali. Nigeria had to be involved. Many of these people have migrated down South . As they come, they are recruiting people even within Nigeria . So there is problem of migrants outside Nigeria mixing up with people in Northern Nigeria where the desert is ravaging most of our eco system .
With this, Nigeria is facing a long term problem of which if we don’t take time we will be overrun by the massive radical population that is coming from North Africa. Without correct policies we are going to face a serious problem .
How do the local people get involved?
Unfortunately, we have a local population, a local group of people whose economy is tied to cattle breeding -Miyetti Allah, which has strong patrons like Sultan of Sokot Emir of Kano, Emir of Katsina, Emir of Zaria, Lamido of Adamawa . These are their patrons . These people are hiring some of these militant groups who are well armed and who are basically mercenaries to go round into areas where there is fertile land, where Nigerians are practicing sedentary agriculture and dislodge them so that they can move in their cattle away from the dry land of the Sahel . This is to help them relocate their economic activities to these areas. That is why places like the River Basin of Benue, River Basin of Niger and most of the South where there is massive grass and water have become very attractive . Incidentally, they are not just moving there with economic intention, they have a total way of life. Their politics , religion, economy etc are tied together.
People are genuinely concerned, people are worried. Unfortunately it is mixed with our own local Nigerian politics where there has always been this lack of trust based on its history from the jihad days of Othman Dan Fodio when the Caliphate was created in most part of the North.
People are concerned that this mass migration from the Sahel region down South and the rather myopic policies of the federal government over the years , together with the history of the jihad, the policies of the Northern regional government including the 1965 law on grazing reserve and cattle routes which were clearly in favour of the cattle breeders is creating a lot of political tension in Nigeria . Unfortunately, the Nigerian government is not handling it well.
The DSS is blaming the Islamic State in West Africa for the crisis
What the DSS said is true but not the whole truth . It is true in the sense that, yes the climate change situation and the rise of radical Islamic movements in West Africa are affecting this mass migration but they have found collaborators within Nigeria. Miyetti Allah has consistently come out to claim some of these killings. Nobody has arrested them . In other words, the DSS seems to have absolved the failings of the Nigerian state in every aspect of policy -whether economic or security related policies -nobody has arrested anybody. Nobody has made any effort to do that. Instead, there is tacit support for this terrorist organisation. In Nigeria, the official organs of security have refused to identify them as terrorists.
Are you saying that your findings show that the militant herders have the support of key emirs and influential people in the North?
I believe they have because Miyetti Allah whose patrons are these five powerful emirs in the North I mentioned earlier , has consistently come out to say that they are responsible for these killings . They have done that consistently . In fact , the Sultan of Sokoto and the Emir of Kano particularly have come out to tacitly support these killings by saying that Fulani people are also being killed . I think such position is largely irresponsible for people of their status . One would have expected them to try and diffuse tension instead of creating more tension . I believe that it is not just an external factor, there is also an internal dimension which is organized.
When I issued my recent statement on the killings I said an organisation within Nigeria, I didn’t just say it is only those coming from outside. If Nigerians do not support those coming from outside, they can’t come into the country and operate so freely and nobody would apprehend them. No single person has been apprehended in the killings in Benue, Southern Kaduna, Plateau, Zamfara. The senator representing one of the districts in Zamfara , Marafa has come out to explain the massive killings going on in Zamfara which is not a Christian state by any means. So, it is not just a strict issue of Islam versus Christianity, it is a question of economics, politics , religion mixed together. Despite the threat posed by this, the Nigerian state is not doing what it is expected to do.
Why do you think the Federal Government is sitting back and allowing these killings to go on?
That is a question you have to ask President Buhari and his team . It is rather curious that the whole security architecture of the Buhari administration is in the hands of people of one ethnic and religious disposition . President Buhari is the President and chief security officer of Nigeria . He is assisted by the National Security Adviser , Minister of Defence ,Minister of Interior , Director General of SSS, Chief of Army Staff , Chief of Air Staff , Chief of Naval Staff , Immigration boss, Head of Customs , Director General of NIA etc . Of all these people I mentioned, only the head of Navy which is peripheral to the issue under discussion that is different . Others belong to one religion and are drawn from only one part of the country. It has never happened in the history of this country. Therefore, it gives room for suspicion by all Nigerians. There are competent people all over Nigeria from every part of the country .
If there is nothing sinister, why do you make sure that the security architecture of the entire country is just in the hands of one group of people. It does not inspire confidence in other Nigerians. This suspicion is more, when these killings take place and nobody cares to apprehend those involved in the crime . Instead, you hear statement from the head of police that it is just communal clashes . There is a lot to worry about . The only reaction that we saw the President make , was in Zamfara where he personally dressed in military uniform of four star General , accompanied by the head of Army and went to Zamfara and set up a military committee to tackle cattle rustling . That is the only reaction I saw the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria make .
There is every reason to believe that President Buhari does not mean well for the rest of Nigeria
But he ordered the arrest of perpetrators of Benue killings
Any responsible President will visit the state where such massive killings have taken place . Killings have been going on in Benue for the last 10 years . When President Jonathan was in power, he not only personally visited Benue he took helicopter and went round to see everywhere. Since the killings have been happening , outside Zamfara, I have not heard President Buhari even going there to condole with the people of Benue. Apart from saying he will apprehend anybody who is involved , he has not done anything to convince the people of Benue that he is serious about his pronouncements, I believe other Nigerians are also not convinced about what he says.
If the Nigerian government could resolve very serious protracted problem in Sierra Leone, Liberia and was very effective in Dafur, I don’t see how a serious internal aggression coming in the name of herdsmen which are clearly terrorists would not be handled. I do not see how the government would not have the capacity or capability to address the problem. I believe it is a question that Nigerians have to put to President Buhari and his team through journalists why they have not addressed the killings. People are coming out to claim that they are behind the killings yet nothing is done. They call themselves Miyetti Allah. Nobody has arrested them . It means Miyetti Allah, whether it is a social, political or economic organisation has a military wing . They know those who are responsible for the killings but nobody has arrested them. Nobody has arrested the head of Miyetti Allah who has said that there will be more killings in Benue . They said that there will be more bloodshed in Benue yet nobody has arrested members of the group . So I am inclined to believe that there is something deliberate about it.
What is your take on the proposed cattle colony as a panacea?
Cattle breeding is a private business. Federal Government can support agriculture-whether you are breeding pigs, goats, chicken etc. Nigeria is not a major cattle breeder in the world. Genuine cattle producer countries have 20 to 30 million cattle . You have such states like U.S, Canada, Australia, Brazil, India, Argentina, Uruguay . These are major cattle producers in the world. None of them is doing what is called cattle colonies . They are doing ranching , modern scientific breeding including genetic engineering of breeding cattle. They breed healthy cattle, ones that are handled by Vet doctors . They breed cattle that do not have foot and mouth disease . In Brazil, the country earns about $5bn from cattle every year. The whole cattle in Brazil are concentrated in only six states – most of them in the North and mid-West . Nobody is moving cattle from one part of the country to the other in Brazil . They are all in ranches . And these ranches are private businesses . I am surprised that in the 21st century even educated Nigerians , some of them who are of Fulani stock , are busy talking of sticking to the old way , a way of life that existed in the United States in the 19th century. That is why you see the cowboy films of people moving with cattle all over the place. Nobody in the modern cattle breeding business is moving cattle from one part of the country to the other.
I believe that the Federal Government and the state governments and private business owners have to come together and develop a more workable policy. The cattle industry is a very important industry . Australia exports beef and bye products of cattle to the tune of five to six billion dollars every year . Brazil exports beef and related products mostly to Russia and Korea and other parts of Europe. They make about five billion dollars from it yearly . This is a billion dollar business. Nigeria exports nothing. The things you see here called cattle are unhealthy. By the time our cattle travel from Maiduguri to Port Harcourt, the meat is so tough, it is useless, it is unhealthy , it is unhygienic. There is so much waste . You don’t use the blood, the horn, the hide. There should be a value chain integrated in the industry of cattle . It is not only beef, not only hide and skin but other related products.
I believe people are simply deceiving Nigerians. When you talk of cattle colonies in Nigeria, it has a history . In the 1950s, Nigeria started something like resettlement programme for Fulani . They became very expensive. What the Northern regional government did was to cancel the resettlement programme and turned into grazing reserves and grazing routes with the 1965 law. They proposed for the creation of 30 grazing reserves in the Northern part of the country . Those are the reserves people are thinking should continue. The only one experimentation I can remember was in Southern Kaduna in a place called Kachia in Zango Kataf . They came there and said they wanted to do a small cattle colony, they were given a piece of land. Few Fulani moved in there on a 30,000 hectares of land . They moved to this grazing reserve at a place called Ruguda in Zango Kataf . In a short time, they expanded that land space to about 100,000 hectares of land . The population increased . They appointed an Emir . It became the staging post of the crisis you are seeing today in Southern Kaduna . That is the cattle colony for you. I believe that we do not need that replicated or multiplied all over the 36 states . Replicating Ruguda in Zango Kataf all over Nigeria means the beginning of massive instability across Nigeria.
How do you react to Obasanjo’s letter and President Buhari’s 2nd term bid?
President Obasanjo was my boss . I served as a minister in three ministries under him. One of them was the Ministry of Environment which was my last ministerial assignment. I have great respect for him . All the leaders I have worked with I hardly come in public to attack them or expose what transpired between me and them. However, let me say that President Obasanjo is the architect of our current Nigeria’s problems. He had a great opportunity to set in motion correct policies including the issue of the green belt in the North, border control . I was also minister of Internal Affairs , I know how much pressure I put on him to improve the border question in Nigeria . President Obasanjo was not interested in these policies. He is somebody who is very opportunistic, a man who wants to always be on the correct side of history. President Obasanjo never planned to exit power, he wanted to continue in office . He talked to me three times to support him but I refused . He comes out and tells lies , he tells people that he is the solution to Nigeria’s problems. But he is the problem of Nigeria. He brought in a successor, virtually imposed on the country a leader he knew very well was terminally ill. A competent man I must say, Umaru Yar’Adua, we were contemporary in the university, we were very close -patriotic, intelligent and he meant well, but he was terminally ill. Obasanjo imposed him on the country . He brought in a weak leader, who had no political experience whatsoever as a running mate . He did that believing that when Yar’Adua leaves the scene, he, President Obasanjo would continue to dominate the political and economic landscape by controlling the weak President Jonathan . Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. The failure of Jonathan is the failure of General Obasanjo because succession is important in leadership . If you create a weak succession that cannot even carry on whatever policy you have put in place you have failed . People talk today, speak glowingly of Tinubu in Lagos. The success of Tinubu is not because he ruled Lagos for two terms but it is the quality of leadership succession he has established in Lagos . The continuity of policies is the thing that makes Tinubu a successful leader in Lagos and perhaps in Nigeria. Obasanjo is not such a successful leader . He is a man who created problems because the failure of Jonathan produced President Buhari who everybody knew had no capacity to run this country . Obasanjo supported him for his own selfish interest . He thought he was his junior in the army and he, Obasanjo will continue to influence policies . Obasanjo has no moral right to tell Nigerians today that Buhari should leave power.
The proposal by Gen. Obasanjo about a coalition is a subversion of democracy . The coalition he is calling for is undemocratic. It is virtually another military dictatorship Nigerians will not accept . We don’t need coalition . We need elections, we need political parties to come out and throw up competent candidates that can run this country . Nigerians should have a right to elect a leader who is capable of running this country. Somebody well trained in both policy and politics, who can run Nigeria is what we need. We don’t need the contraption that Obasanjo is bringing . He wants to continue to run Nigeria through the backdoor . Nigerians will not accept that.
He talked about PDP and APC being the same, that Nigeria needs a new platform . Are you saying he is not correct on that?
Nigeria has so many political parties , others are coming up. Even the ones he thinks are bad, who destroyed them? Who destroyed PDP? It was President Obasanjo. We formed PDP as an opposition to dictatorship . We formed PDP as a patriotic movement designed to help deepen democracy and develop Nigeria . PDP achieved a lot. First, all the perennial coup plotters were retired from the army. That enabled democratic government to survive for sometime. A number of things were done. Unfortunately, we negotiated succession with the military and they literally imposed Obasanjo on the party who to my mind was not a democrat . He had no democratic temper or credentials. He went ahead removing governors. For instance, he removed Joshua Dariye with eight lawmakers in a House of 24 members. He got five people to remove Alamieyeseigha in Bayelsa. He got a few people to remove Ladoja in Oyo. He held the revenue of Lagos state for almost 14 months .It was an illegality. We are in a federation . Obasanjo never believed or acted as a democratic president . He created the instability we are facing today. So, he has no solution to this country’s problems.
I believe that political parties must be allowed to grow in spite of the difficulties . Those that Nigerians do not want will be rejected . Those that Nigerians think are doing well will be elected . I believe as we struggle along , put in place correct policies including asserting ourselves in the West African sub region, we will get our country back on its feet . We need the region by setting example with good policies . Nigeria has to make sure that governments in West Africa are stable. The success of these governments is the success of our country . We cannot just stand by and do nothing.
The reclamation of Lake Chad, for example, would have been the success of Nigeria. It would have benefitted Nigeria more, we would not have had Boko Haram ravaging the whole of North East. It is the failure of the economic system in Lake Chad Basin that has generated Boko Haram with a pool of army that is very easy to recruit. A leader who understands this domestic and regional problems is what we need , we don’t need a contraption which Obasanjo will continue to influence. In his letter, he said that he will be an active member of the coalition . He has retired as a former Head of State, he should go and sit down and rest.
He also claims Buhari lacks capacity to govern Nigeria
I am not a member of APC. At a point when Obasanjo was destabilizing the PDP which I was a founding member, a number of us left . We joined hands with Tinubu to form Action Congress (AC). We were developing that party with him until it became Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) . I talked to my friend Tinubu, we are very close . I told him that we need to develop the progressive party in Nigeria. He didn’t believe me, he preferred to go and link up with the most right wing group in the North . And that right wing group was headed by Buhari in the name of CPC . At that point I left the party and came back to the PDP. I have known Gen. Buhari when he was the military Head of State, I was a university lecturer then. I know the tyranny that was visited on this country. I refused to be part of that team . I warned Tinubu that he will regret bringing Buhari and imposing him on the party. I believe he is regretting silently without telling Nigerians . But more is to be expected. I am sorry to say that if Buhari is re-elected in 2019, it will not only consume Tinubu , it will consume so many other people. It may even lead to the disintegration of Nigeria.
What should the country do to avert this?
I don’t want this personalization, it is not about Buhari as an individual . Buhari is only part of a wider right wing political movement represented by people like Nasir el-Rufai. There are many others whose names are not being mentioned . Even if you replace Buhari with another one of them, you will still have the same problem. I think Nigerians should be educated to know that this group of people even in the individual state they are ruling don’t mean well for democracy. Tinubu made a mistake. He is a democrat , he is a progressive . He needs to connect with the progressive wing of the North, progressive wing of the East to build a progressive political movement that will advance not only the economy but the stability of Nigeria . Tinubu docked with the most right wing group in the North and that is why we have a problem. He as a progressive has no control. Initially they tried to push him out, that is why they gave huge ministries to people they thought were oppositional to him,Tinubu . The only minister Tinubu nominated and was accepted is Lai Mohammed who is nothing more than a talking parrot. Tinubu has to retrace his steps if Nigeria is going to survive. If that group continues in 2019, they will turn around and be more vicious on Tinubu and his progressives, more vicious on the rest of Nigerians . People will react when this happens. Democracy will suffer. I am sorry to say that the unity of the country will be threatened.