By Rose Ejembi
In this exclusive interview, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, Benue State chapter, Rev. Akpen Leva lamented the increasing spate of insecurity in the country saying blood now flows more than the oil that God naturally gifted the country.
The CAN Chairman also stressed the need for all to come together to dialogue and find solution to the daunting problems of the country. He maintained that it is only during dialogue that even guns are dropped.
Leva also spoke on other salient national issues.
At this point, it seems that Nigeria is now on a life support with the many issues of insecurity here and there. What can be done to redeem the situation?
I want to say that whoever is saying that Nigeria is on a life support is not far from the truth. When one is on life support, it’s a kind of a 50-50 situation; either the person will die or will survive. And that is the stage in which our country is. Nigeria is on a life support. By this, it means that Nigeria either tears apart or remain as one indivisible nation. This is because of things that are happening in this nation. Nobody is sure of having the next day. Insecurity is on the increase everyday. You can imagine a lot of people suffering under the watch of kidnappers. Some are maltreated, some are tortured. Hundreds of students kidnapped from their schools. Security personnel are not spared as they are being killed too. You hear of policemen, soldiers and other security operatives being killed and it is uncontrollable. So, in this case, nobody is sure of what may happen the following day. With all these that are happening all around us, there’s no gainsaying that Nigeria is on a life support. It’s very obvious. But it’s not too late yet. I believe that something can still be done to salvage the situation. And I think the Federal Government should step up more to check insecurity. The Federal Government has a responsibility to ensure security of lives and property of the citizens. And I think the Federal Government is capable of redeeming this seemingly impossible situation. The Federal Government has the architecture of security and I think if the Federal Government steps up seriously, we will be able to resolve the issue. Also, Nigerians need to come together. You would see that because Nigeria is on life support, many regions are coming up with their own security outfits. Look at the Vigilante, Amotekun and the rest of the regional security that are coming up, because sometimes, it seems as if the regions may not trust the national security in defending them. And so, regions are coming up with something that will supplement the efforts of the conventional security that we have in this nation. And that is why we are all calling for the state police because people that are indigenes know their terrains better than people that you may bring from elsewhere to come and protect the people. And some people feel that the security men are not protecting them enough. Some of them are compromising. These are very serious issues in this nation and we need to come together as a nation and as a people to sit and talk because Nigeria is the only country God has given to us.
You are stressing the need for us to come together and talk. But do you think that dialogue can still work at this point when religious, political and tribal inclinations are already taking the center stage of our national existence…
(Cuts in)…And that is why we need dialogue. In a war situation, you can’t have any ceasefire until dialogue comes in. It is when you sit and talk that there will be peace. I think we need to sit and talk. All these regions, I think it’s very important for the Federal Government to organize an emergency national conference that would bring all the regions together to discuss because all the issues of insecurity that are happening are being sponsored by Nigerians. We know that some people are behind all of these. Maybe when we come together, everybody will explain his or her grievances and then, there will be a way forward. So, dialogue is very important. It’s only dialogue that can solve the situation. When we sit on the round table to talk, everybody will air his or her views and I think, with dialogue, we may reach a compromise and the situation will be better.
You would agree with me that the issue of armed banditry which had resulted in the kidnap and sometimes, killings of many people especially in Kaduna, Niger, Plateau, Benue and other states is becoming a recurring decimal. What is CAN doing about this?
It’s very unfortunate that Nigeria is in a pool of blood everywhere. Blood is flowing in Nigeria more than oil which we have. Everyday you see blood flowing, people killed, some are kidnapped and even when ransom is paid, they’re still killed. It is very very unfortunate. And as CAN, state and national, we always condemn this act in totality. And from time to time, we encourage the Federal Government to do the needful because the Federal Government has the responsibility of protecting lives and property. And when the Federal Government cannot protect its citizens, it means the Federal Government has failed in its responsibility of protecting lives and property of its people. And so, as CAN, first of all, we condemn the act as barbaric; it’s not good and it’s condemnable. Secondly, we always encourage and call upon the security agencies to be up and doing to solve this problem. We also call leadership both at the federal and state levels to live up to expectation. That has been the role of CAN. CAN is about bringing peace and not to fuel the crisis. And sometimes when we speak out, the Federal Government will feel as if we are not appreciating the efforts they are doing. They have to do more. As CAN, we want peace in this nation. The Bible teaches us to be peacemakers and so, as a body of Christ, we intervene to bring peace in this nation. And we speak out the truth to the authority to do the needful so that there will be peace in this nation. And also, as CAN, we always organize prayers for our people because prayer is a weapon which God uses to help us to solve situations. So, we encourage our people to be prayerful and also be watchful so that when they see anything, they can report to the law enforcement agencies. These have been the roles of CAN in Nigeria and in Benue State in particular.
With all that are happening around us as a country, do you think President Muhammadu Buhari has what it takes to confront the issues currently plaguing this country?
I’m very sure that our President has all it takes to stop what is happening. He is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. He has Nigeria Air Force NAF, Navy, Army and all the paramilitary under his control. So, by virtue of his position as the President of this country, he has the capacity if actually his orders are carried out; like he ordered that anybody with a gun should be shot at sight. If the security agencies are complying with the directives of the President, I think we will be able to solve this problem. He has every power and capacity to stop what is happening. This is my firm belief.
The issue of grazing routes is now coming up again. The President is saying grazing routes have to be reestablished. What’s your take on this?
I don’t want to believe that the President can direct that cattle routes should be opened in this nation. Maybe, somebody is trying to impersonate the President. Because as a President of this nation, he knows the tension that is in the country because of this issue of open grazing of livestock. Well, in Benue State, as far back as 2017, after having experienced a lot of killings because of open grazing, we sat together as a people and enacted a law and banned open grazing. At least, we now have relative peace compared to how it was before. And very recently, the 17 Southern Governors met and resolved that from September 1, there should be no open grazing. And even the Northern governors before then agreed that open grazing should be banned and there should be ranching. So, I don’t think the President, after hearing all these, would sit and direct that grazing routes should be opened. And if anybody is thinking about that, the person does not love Nigeria. The person is a lover of blood because it was as a result of all these clashes between herdsmen and farmers that this spate of insecurity came up. And ranching is the only way that we can solve this problem. If we have ranches, we can have better milk production, better breeding of cattle and better meat too. As it is now, the Fulani who have monopolized cattle industry over the years, have never improved on the production of cattle. All they do is move from Sokoto to Lagos and from Kano to Calabar doing open grazing. But when you ranch your cattle, you will have better breeds and that can create job opportunities and in fact, the industry itself will be lucrative. And that is why we are saying that there should be ranching because ranching has so many advantages. I want to also say that government should shelve it’s plan to help establish ranches because cattle business is a private business. A situation whereby there are orders from the presidency that there should be ranches in all the states and local governments of the federation is not right. Cattle rearing is a private business. Give a good enabling environment to the cattle owners to be able to participate in the industry. But most of the times, it’s as if the Federal Government has so much interest in cattle rearing more than rice production, pig production and other things. That is where some of us try to question it. And when you know that people are being killed because of cattle, will you still order that grazing routes should be opened? Most of these routes that were used before, the population of the country is increasing on daily basis and there are schools, hospitals, towns that have been developed on them. To be specific, even Aso Villa in Abuja is on cattle route. So, if you want these cattle routes to be opened, does it mean we should demolish these places to create cattle routes so that cattle can be passing? It’s not obtainable in the 21st century. After all, in Nigeria, we have less than 30 million cattle. Go to other nations that have over 200 million cattle and you won’t see this type of nonsense that is happening in this nation. They are able to ranch their cattle to provide everything and you have better meat. Now, you take a cow from Sokoto to Calabar, it becomes emancipated and the meat becomes like fibre and is not even sweet. But when you ranch, you can sell one cow for more than N500,000 because it will be big. So, as a body of Christ, we say no to opening of cattle routes. Anybody dreaming about that is only having a dream that can never be possible. Because Nigerians have spoken and will never go back on opening of stock routes. They want ranches to be created so that this problem will be solved and we will all have peace and the farmer can be proud of his farm produce and the cattle rearer will be proud of his cattle.
Don’t you think at this juncture, it is high time our leaders began to make arrangements for a peaceful disintegration of this country instead of us ending it in crises?
Yes, I think a peaceful disintegration of a nation is a normal thing. Nations that were together in the past have parted peacefully and not under crisis. I think if Nigeria is of age, Nigeria can disintegrate peacefully. That’s why I was talking of dialogue. If we are able to dialogue, we can say this region is too wide; let us cease and go and become a nation. We can talk in a referendum and there will be no problem. So, to me, first of all, I want us to resolve this crisis first and then, after that, when we know that there is peace, we will sit on a round table and talk. Actually, Nigeria is large. If during dialogue, we get that we can put Nigeria on the table like a cake and carry a knife and cut this way and that way, it can be done. Dialogue can solve so many problems. It is when there is dialogue that even guns can be put down without being shot at anybody. So, a peaceful disintegration is okay. Or some people are saying we should go back to our regional units. I believe if we sit down together, we can even talk about that one too. But for now, our main preoccupation is to resolve the crisis because Nigeria has become a bloodbath nation. Every time people are being killed. Let us stop that and then we can sit down as a people and talk.
Your have been at the vanguard of the call for the Federal Government to see to the return of over one million Benue IDPs to their ancestral homes; we would like to know if there is any positive response so far to that call?
As far as I know, I think there is no positive reaction to resettling the IDPs in Benue by the Federal government because any day you go there, they are still there. And in fact, more are joining the IDPs in the camps because of heightened insecurity in Benue. I think Benue State belongs to Nigeria. Benue State feeds greater population of this nation. Benue State is contributing to the development of this nation and Benue State should also benefit from the resources of this nation. The Vice President, about three or four years ago, came and promised that the Federal Government will give N10 billion for the resettlement of the IDPs. Up till now, that has not yet been done. Sometimes, it seems as if the Federal Government feels that it’s Benue that has created this problem.