Obinna Odogwu, Awka
National President of Anambra State Association of Town Unions (ASATU), Chief Alex Onukwue, has given insight into how town unions in Anambra State are handling farmers-herdsmen’s frictions witnessed in some parts of the state. He also spoke on the relationship between the traditional rulers and Presidents-General in the various communities in the state among other issues.
What is ASATU doing to bring peace between herders and farmers in some Anambra communities?
First of all, in Anambra State, there is a committee which we call Anambra State Cattle Control Committee instituted by the government. You know, the government of Anambra State at a stage felt that it will be better to find ways of managing the crisis of herdsmen-farmers’ issues without allowing it to snowball into fracas that will lead to people losing their lives here and there. So, in the state Cattle Control Committee, I represent ASATU as member and what we do in the committee is to ensure first of all that the cattle rearers or herders wherever they are in Anambra State are known to the committee. So, no cattleman or herdsman is allowed to come into Anambra State without clearance. From the structure, we have the traditional ruler, the President-General such that if in anywhere, the cattlemen destroy anything in the community, they are held responsible and they are made to pay for it. With these, we ensure that unlike many parts of the country, there is some kind of harmony because the farmers have some understanding that ‘the government has not abandoned us’. There are mechanisms that protect the farmers even though we are not chasing away the herdsmen with sticks. But I will also tell you that in this effort that we are making, we make sure that there are no infiltrations. You know, these cattlemen, there are so many groups of them. Some come from Enugu State, some come from Kogi State and Benue and all of that. But we have an arrangement with the leadership of the herdsmen in Anambra State; that those herders who are unknown to the leadership of Miyetti Allah who we are dealing with here will never be allowed to enter into Anambra State. So, there are problems here and there of may be cows destroying the farms and the herdsman not coming up to pay and all of that. But we can say that even with this kind of problem we are still making a lot of progress, making sure that our farmers are constantly compensated. This compensation, I must say, may not be adequate because a farmer may go to his farm to plant his crops and tomorrow the cows will go and destroy it. It is hard to say how much you will pay to make up for the whole labour, the materials and the joy of having a farm and all of that. We are still human beings. So, we are trying to apply wisdom in managing these things because obviously; I know it will end one day. I do not hope that people sending their cows to the streets is going to be the way Nigeria will go forever because it is already out of fashion. We hope that one day this whole issue of open grazing will end some day in this country.
What have been your challenges running the affairs of ASATU?
It has been a win-win situation because we have this kind of understanding that it is our thing together. So, we are doing it together. I have a team of exco and a general house of presidents in Anambra State that understand that this is our thing. So, the cooperation I receive from colleagues in ASATU is wonderful and we are working quite well as one house. Our challenges are there, no doubt. As a Non-Governmental Organization, we face challenges of funding and all of that but we are still remaining afloat and doing our best.
How healthy has the relationship between the Presidents-General and the traditional rulers been especially since you came on board?
The relationship between the Igwes and the presidents-general has been very cordial because we have 179 communities in Anambra State with their traditional rulers and PGs. So, it is a very large house. You may have pockets of issues here and there. Overall, I can tell you that the relationship between the traditional rulers and the PGs is quite cordial and that’s why you will see that Anambra is working. The N20 million community-choose-your-projects initiative, we all know that the first phase has been concluded in all these communities. The second phase has gone like 95 per cent and some communities are now applying for the third phase. And if you take cognizance that the Igwe and the PG must work together for this project to succeed, and now you have done first phase 100 per cent, second phase 95 per cent and now you are talking about the third, it means that the Igwes and the PGs are working together. The only thing is that in some cases there are disagreements here and there but disagreements cannot be ruled out in anything human beings do together. We always say it here in ASATU, that when such disagreements are normal, the overriding issue there will be what is good for the people. So, the pockets of disagreements we have in some communities are there but they are very, very isolated issues and the PGs and the traditional rulers are doing well and are supporting the government of the day.
We observed that in some communities, there are still issues of who is the authentic traditional ruler. In some communities, while the people have their candidate, government issues certificate to unpopular person and this brings disaffection. Is there any role ASATU is playing to see that things are done appropriately in this regard?
I think that government does not issue certificate to just anybody. The selection of the traditional ruler in Anambra State has a process. There is process that must be concluded before the certificate of recognition is issued to anybody as a traditional ruler in Anambra State. So, I think that before issuing certificate of recognition to anybody as the traditional ruler of a community in this state, government makes sure that due process is followed because government does not select traditional rulers anyway. The people select their traditional ruler and then ask government to certify and then government issues certificate of recognition based on the fact that the community has chosen somebody to be their traditional ruler. So, that is the way it works. Now, you still have situations where after an Igwe has been selected and certificate of recognition issued by the government, somebody is still coming to that community to say no, this is somebody who has been chosen wrongly; certificate has been wrongly issued.