Chairman of the All Progressive Congress (APC) Governors Forum and governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, said the #RevolutionNow protests by the “Global Coalition for Security and Democracy in Nigeria” was misplaced.
Bagudu, who was in the red chamber from December 2009 to May 2015, in this interview with JULIANA TAIWO-OBALONYE said aggrieved citizens should learn to channel their grievances through their representatives in the National Assembly, saying it is wrong for citizens to protest under a democratic government. He also warned that Nigerians must embrace the federal government Ruga initiative if there is going to be an end to the current security challenges facing the country.
As chairman of APC Governors’ Forum, what is your reaction to the call by some groups for a revolution?
Any call for disorder in a democratic setting is condemnable because democracy as the saying goes is not the best form of government but it is the best that we have, because it gives opportunity periodically for the electorates to exercise their mandate in affirming or rejecting leaders.
We have just come through a general election in March this year where Nigerians embraced the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari and he has been elected for a second term with a little more votes than they have in 2015, also state governors were elected in different states, a lot of them second termers and a number of them first termers and interestingly enough, we have seen all kinds of democratic outcomes. We have first termers defeating second termers and in the case of one state, the Supreme Court exercising their rights as the highest court in the land to determine what should be and it is respected by the government.
So, to celebrate the evolution of our democracy, we are progressing from one mandate to the other. In the last few years, Nigeria has faced economic downturn, which has been occasioned by changes in global economy. In 2008 the world began to witness recession which affected many countries and in 2011, Nigeria had a wage increase so you have economic downturn in the world and you have a wage increase which is commendable but the effect of the two continue to hit hard and then in 2014, we also had another economic crisis.
So the money available to government fell dramatically; the money available for us to police our country, provide for the welfare of our citizens has reduced significantly.
Oil prices plunged from about $140 per barrel to as little as $27 per barrel. Let us all be cognisant of the fact that democracy fares in a demanding society, every elected representative, whether councillor, chairman of local government, House of Assembly, Federal House of Representatives and Senate, deputy governor or governor and Vice President or President, whenever you go around your constituency, you are going to face more demand for governmental services which in other forms of government would not be so, this also adds to the pressure to do more.
Therefore, we are doing more with little, but in spite of lower government revenue, Nigeria has huge progressive policies by the government of President Muhammadu Buhari. We have recovered from recession in the shortest possible time; in spite of the lower revenue, infrastructural projects are taking place in various parts of the country, even those that have been inherited by the administration are going on.
Rail lines are being constructed, second Niger bridge is being constructed, infrastructural works across the entire six geopolitical zones are taking place, power is improving steadily, it is very frustrating because we have a challenge in the privatisation, but in terms of provision for more output or programmes that are being undertaken to ensure power availability are taking place. We have done very well in agriculture. Interestingly, I saw Mr President today and I was telling him happily how I witnessed the first millet crop of the season and he was very excited. Food prices have been coming down steadily over the last 18 months even though the farmers will like to see interventions that will protect their income.
So these are all positive outcomes; social intervention programmes are expanding but part of the frustration by some people relates to the size of our economy and to illustrate that size, most economies use the example of Brazil, a country with a population of about 210 million and Nigeria with a population of about 200 million.
But the Brazilian budget of 2019 is $657 billion compared to Nigeria’s budget of under $30 billion. This is not a fault of one particular administration––this is the size of our economy. Should we be taking risks? Maybe we should take the risks as countries like Brazil took to get to that kind of level. Even in the West African countries, the size of our budget is small. South Africa with much less population has a budget close to $100 billion. We can see that the size of our economy matters.
Secondly, our ability to get support from the rest of the world, particularly in economic downturn is limited by the fact that we are a sub-Saharan nation. A good example is Greece that received support from the European Union in excess of 300 billion euros; that is not a sum of money any African country can get.
We are a bigger population, bigger economy but we don’t receive such money. Ireland, another European nation got support from the European Union to get them out of economic crisis in excess of 200 billion euros. Nigeria is not so lucky, we have not received support of 10 billion euros but of course we have borrowed more, we have issued Eurobond.
So it’s important we contextualize our frustration. Our economic population is growing; in spite of all the achievements, we remain a smaller economy than we wish to be. Rather than getting angry, we should embrace the measures that are being put in place to reposition the economy so that we will take our place of pride in the comity of nations.
It is very impressive that we have recovered from recession, that companies are coming into Nigeria and are investing, new factories are coming up, maybe not quick enough for those who are feeling angry, but in a global world, we are competing with other countries. If we give the impression that we are angry with each other, that will even scare investors. It’s for people to appreciate that; yes, there have been challenges, but for the credibility of Mr President, the track records of the last four years is giving confidence.
One of the biggest challenges faced by our country is security, even though pocket of it remains, but in the main, Boko Haram has been contained in terms of their ability to hold territory. Yes, other forms of crimes have grown, these are a function of our limitation in economic size which I believe if we embrace the policies, which some states and communities have done, we will continue to record more growth, and we will wait for the next circle of election.
Is it right that protesters have been scared away from doing what they believe in?
It’s wrong for people to protest in a democratic setting, moreso when we have institutions that have been created through which peole can express their discontent. We all have representatives, why don’t they go through the House or office of their representatives so that they can raise their points and demands, so that their representatives, whether councillor, House of Assembly or National Assembly members, can now act on it? Where people decided to take the law into their hands, other people whose peaceful conduct is being affected are entitled to be protected and to the extent that it involves authority showing restraint and that it did not go out of hand, it is the proper thing to do.
Do you sense foreign conspiracy in this call for revolution, given the fact that some of the proponents were involved in the recent general elections?
Well, developing countries have generally been worried about conspiracy from the western world. Historically, Walter Rodney and Amilcar Cabral and others have always been worried about effect of foreign actors and moreso we are not alone.
There is still a raging debate in the United States, which is more advanced than us as to whether the Russians have influenced their elections. We have seen the intrusion of social media which we don’t control. So there is suspicion because of the way the world is evolving. One cannot dismiss such suspicion. What is even worrisome is the response that you don’t see in other countries.
As we speak, Greece has suspended payment to anybody who has money deposit in banks, yet we don’t have people who are saying, “let us create a revolution.” They will wait for election circle, that is the beauty of democracy. You will have the opportunity (and we have seen it working particularly in Nigeria) where people who are in office, who ought to be re-elected have been defeated.
What approach are you applying to keep Kebbi free of security challenges?
I am not boasting because there is a popular Hausa saying that ‘if you see the beard of your neigbour on fire, get water and keep close to you’; that we are better than other states is not even a happy thing because the security of Kebbi is linked to the security of every part of Nigeria, so what we want to see is peace. The issue is how is it that some states are better than others, maybe that is the lesson. Maybe some states’ economic opportunities are more, some have more investment opportunities.
The general message as President Buhari has always said is, for you to have a peaceful society, we have to focus on the need of every member of the society and that is what is being done in social investment programmes, that is what is being done to farmers, fishermen, pastoralists in Kebbi State.
We embraced that together with effective electoral process, traditional institution, community leaders, religious leaders, we have focused on security issues on a non-divisive way. For us crime is crime. Whoever commits crime, it doesn’t matter his ethnicity, he or she ought to be condemned as such and ought to be dealt with as a criminal. The systematic misunderstanding of these issues is what causes conflict, the media should focus on this as well.
Some states have accepted to make land available for Ruga, what is your position on that?
It is unfortunate that Ruga has generated the controversy that it did because to begin with, Ruga is not a Fulani or Hausa word, it’s an acronym, which means Rural Grazing Area, it is an acronym given to Nigeria by its colonialists. We have since that time appreciated that there are users of land for economic activities that involve movement, it is better to help them stay in one place, provide water for them, veterinary services, schools and hospital to better their lot. Their children can attend school and benefit from government like other communities.
If you go to any state with significant Fulani population, the places where Fulani live are largely called Ruga. Like in Kebbi, we have over 3000 Rugas, they are very small settlements. I, as the state governor, I am doing the bit that I can to provide water, schools, veterinary services, primary healthcare in those settlements and the more you do that, the yield per animal increases, they live a better life and you have less conflict within the state.
The federal government did not request any state to provide land for Ruga. I am not aware of it. The federal government requested states that have Fulani settlement, like Kebbi, to indicate how much support they want so that we can have more hospital, water, veterinary services, schools in those places.
Like I have said, I have over 3000 Ruga settlements in Kebbi State, so the whole N12billion earmarked for Ruga, if you give it to Kebbi State, we will use it for less than 1000 Rugas. So I think it is a very commendable initiative and as part of our national food security initiative, and national prosperity, we should support all economic initiatives.
Once we achieve less movement, some of the conflicts will lessen and I think that is the big lesson.