Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Prof. Armstrong Matthew Adejoh of the department of History and the immediate past Dean of the Postgraduate School, Benue State University (BSU) believes that the Middle Belt has a chance to win the presidency of the country in 2013. He spoke on various national issues.
The North seems to still be fighting to retain the position of president in 2023. Looking at the zoning arrangement that had been in place since 1999, how possible is that?
Politicians are very clever people. They know how to throw very key statements into the political arena to guage opinion. Ordinarily, we have to get used to the fact that zoning has tactfully been part of our political arrangement since 1999. But like I said earlier, you cannot blame a politician who want to raise some certain bars to be able to be sure that if other people don’t take it up for as long as the other voice seems to rise up so effectively, some other things will come to their advantage. But ordinarily, I know that such statements do not carry weight within the present setting of the Nigerian political arrangement. Remember that PDP once said that it would be in power for not less than 60 years. But how long were they able to hold unto power eventually? In less than 20 years, the whole arrangement has actually been distorted. But I think, on a more serious note, Nigerians should not take that as the motivating political strength that will create distortions in the system. As I said earlier, these are statements that are made occasionally by individuals and individuals are entitled to their rights. Collectively, political groups, caucuses exist in very serious political circles in Nigeria here and when they start weighing some of these statements, definitely they do not carry the type of veracity even within the same geopolitical setting, you will not get a consensus on such type of statements.
Do you think the Middle Belt has people with the financial muscle to fight for the presidency in 2023.
In the first place, power is not easily relinquished. People who are serious enough will start grouping to talk about what they want. Middle Belt as a very strong geopolitical zone of this country stands a chance with various reasons for that matter. Right from the colonial time, we have been at the mercy of both the North and the South. And our economy, our political system, even social standing have actually been distorted to a reasonable level, bringing us to the level that we are today, politically and economically. We have a right to ask for our own dues in this system particularly as it involves the question of management, generation and distribution of resources in this country. We have had the opportunity to be the stabilising factor for this country when Nigeria needed peace most. The Nigerian civil war was highly prosecuted by the Middle Belt, especially the core of the military group. And the economic strength that we call the North today actually rely greatly on the Middle Belt. And today we also act like the sandwich, a balancer, a splendid one, what we could call the bride for the North and the South. And we have played this role to stabilise this country. In essence, we can begin from such grounds to argue for a position. But to say we do not have resources, I think that is not a good excuse. Collectively, if we really mean what we ought to do, I think we can put and pull resources by first of all identifying the type if credible individuals who can lead this nation, not on emotion. But we have quite a store of such type of characters that can lead this nation. We’ve had the likes of David Mark. I think Nigeria owes that man some certain reward. We still easily remember what happened in the transition between the death of Yar’Adua and the emergence of Goodluck Jonathan. Any greedy person would have pushed himself forward. But he (David Mark) had the interest of the country at heart and a simple stroke of statement in terms of principles of what was required to hold a democracy together; Nigeria can actually say that man was responsible, to a reasonable extent, together with some minds like his in the National Assembly and in the political circle, to stabilise this country. The quality of such type of person, the character that he knows what to get at the right time, can always be explored. I’m not saying he’s the only person. Every string of the Middle Belt environment, right from Kwara, to Kogi, to Nasarawa, to Plateau, Niger, Benue, FCT, Southern Kaduna and others, we can’t lack the human resources that can control this country. But as I said earlier, we have had a very serious historical disadvantage. When you are dealing with people who also have this majoritarian disposition, you also know that divide and rule is one of the major instruments to create problems so that the Middle Belt will not take its due. We have had that course in terms of the North and the South pulling us this way and that way and throwing spanners into the system, so that the type of unity that we desire to have focus and a purposeful focus for that matter in the Middle Belt region has always been lacking. And I think if we identify such types of problems that we need to unite for the good of our own course and the good of the country, then we will make progress and a very credible one for that matter.
Can restructuring solve the many problems facing this country?
What we don’t seem to realize is that you don’t work on major political matter on issues of emotion. Some of the statements you’ve been hearing in this country are simply because of emotion. We have not actually sat to look at the type of restructuring we are talking about. You ask some people some basic questions about what type of restruturing they are talking about, they start talking about leadership, they start talking about this and that. You know, it is not even the structure of this country that is the problem. And I’ve personally held that position. It is the question of how to generate our resources, how we manage those resources and how we distribute them. That is why people complain about lopsidedness. If you talk about restructuring, even if you come to the real states that are very vociferous about issues of restructuring, you have very lopsided treatment of the various ethnic groups in them. When you’re pointing with one finger, my people say you have four other fingers pointing at you. All we need to ask are issues of accountability and transparency from our leaders. Nobody will say I want this or that if the basic needs of human beings such as water, electricity, food, shelter and the rest of them are readily available to the people. If all these are available to the people, what will you be asking for again unless you’re a very greedy person. But these things have been skewed in such a way that the political class themselves, irrespective of the state and ethnic communities they are, have always done them on personal and very selfish issues. You start hearing of restructuring when they can no longer agree on division and sharing formula among themselves. Then, they use the rest of the people as if we are the ponds in their hands. I think Nigerians should hold our politicians responsible for the basic things of life. We have enough in this country irrespective of the location you are.
The issue of insecurity is just everywhere – the alarming cases of kidnapping, armed robbery, insurgency and the rest of them. What in your own opinion is the solution to the insecurity situation in this country?
I have already said that the way we generate, manage and distribute our resources have actually been dastardly positioned such that a lot of people are completely marginalized. You see, corruption, whatever name you give to it, is the bane of the issues we are raising. Why do I say that? Allocations are made for roads and a politician sits somewhere and say that is his own deal. Allocations are made for hospitals, and the contractors in connivance with the politicians with other top civil servants, will say those are their deals. Allocations are made for security and the same people who people believe have been trained in the line of discipline and the use of resources also catch up the cold of personalising those resourses. Then what is left for the generality of the people? Nothing. And the basic question is how do we survive in a system where there is apparent scarcity in the midst of plenty? The young men and women would start popping their heads. The money that should have been used to engage people has been siphoned by one individual. Imagine somebody alone will sit on billions, not in the banks but in a vault in his own personal house. Even if he steals and puts in a bank, there are indirect ways that such type of resources will be redistributed. Corruption is the biggest bane of this country. And unfortunately, because it has almost been engrained in the system, attempts to fight it has even faced more dastardly opposition than not attempting to fight it all. And because we have become so used to it, we seem to clap for those who create the impression that those who are fighting corruption are the enemies. Nigerians are one group of people that will latch to it very quickly. When we had problem of examination malpractices, we knew that they were limited to a certain section in this country. But today, miracle centers have arisen and everybody wants his or her child enrolled in such types of schools. When football was not as lucrative, parents were almost beating their children who took time out to go and play football. Today, because a kick of a ball that earns a goal gives you millions, every parent wants his child to be there. Music itself had a problem in the earlier days such that a child who becomes a musician is considered wayward. Today, every family is almost encouraging their children to go and be one musicians. Cybercrime was limited to a group of people before, but because there is a lot of resources attached to it, it has been so democratised that every young man now believes he has the intellectual capacity to dupe people through the Internet. In essence, each time something is dropped into this country, we have this evil tendency to catch with it in such a wonderful manner. But I think all of us have a responsibility because we are shying away from that; even parents are shying away. If a parent can say I can no longer control my child, then there is something responsible. If our school system can say they are not actually getting the children to be interested in issues of values, then something is wrong. And this also bothers greatly on the curriculum we introduce. You can imagine that at a point, we decided that History must not be on the curriculum. Then we introduced some other things for people to pass so quickly. The spirit of rigorousness and creativity was no more there. And people have this tendency of ‘sharp sharp’, cutting corners. That’s why we are confronted with all these problems today. People are not ready to be creative. They don’t want to go into the laborious extent of achieving something. You stand on the road, you waylay people and tomorrow you are riding flashy cars. You help people to pass examination and tomorrow you’re riding flashy cars. You sit in the comfort of your room with computers and tomorrow you’re in millions. And all of us are watching these things. They’re not spirits. We all have a responsibility. The parental responsibility has become so much that we have abandoned the basic issues of family value. And we must come back to it. The churches and mosques have a responsibility. Traditional rulers have a responsibility as well as everyone of us.
But is Buhari actually fighting corruption
I think the man has tried. You see, corruption is like deformity. The child that is deformed, even if he succeeds in competing with those that are not, does it under very strenuous conditions. Nigeria, since military regime, has imbibed the culture of corruption. For the last three decades, it became as if it is given. If you’re not corrupt, people even look at you from your village as if somebody is denying them the basics of their things. And you know when something becomes a culture, it becomes very difficult to confront. That is what people are doing in this country today. And when you even see critical issues being addressed, people introduce political circles around it and say these things are schemed in Favour of some certain group of people. But I ask this question; that particular person that is arrested, is he not guilty of what he’s been arrested for? In essence, I think we must have a positive mind towards this fight so that collectively, we will denounce issues of corruption and give the present regime the opportunity to confront it seriously because it has several dimensions and those dimensions are both political, economic and social. And you must take one at a time. And I think the way we are going, if we allow this regime to do what is expected, without corruption fighting back and we clapping for such type of fight backs, then I think we will make positive change in the next three years.
How can govt handle the RUGA policy and it’s transformation to the Livestock Programme? Will that settle the farmers/herders crises in Nigeria?
I’m not verse in the history of grazing reserves but all I know is that right from colonial times, the British administration saw visible conflicts that will arise between farmers and cattle rearers. These were seasonal movements of cattle from the North to the South, basically to the Middle Belt area and then at a period, they would also move back. But for purposes of creating a more conducive atmosphere where clashes will be minimized, authorities mapped out some certain routes from the North across the River Benue within the eastern wing and the western wing, so that the herders would have such type of routes and pass safely. Occasionally, they may find temporary camp seats in terms of building sheds and all those places but it helped a lot and minimized clashes that had other consequences. Unfortunately, Nigeria has experienced a lot of monumental population growth and a lot of transformation especially since the end of the civil war to such a level that those routes became materials for building and for farm as the population increased. And definitely, when such thing happens, clashes that people intended to stop before became visible enough because if I build my house along the route or I have my farm along the route, definetely, those routes can no longer be used by cattle. Unfortunately, subsequent regimes did not sit down to effectively plan. If we had planned well by the end of the time and we saw possible clashes between herders and farmers, we would have also gone through what we are going through today in terms of advocating for ranches. In civilized world and farming, ranches are the best. It is not that some people are still not conducting traditional herding of cattle openly in parts of the world but they are restricted to mountainous areas that may not have direct confrontations with farmers. For Nigeria, especially those states that are within the fertile regions of the Middle Belt area because of what geography and issues of environmental degradation has caused, the Lake Chad has become a problem on its own in terms of limited water supply as well as fodder for cattle. Some of the normal rivers that were there before have also gone dry and technically, the Fulani man that is not a settled, sedentary farmer will be looking for fresh fodder. And the Rivers Benue and Niger became the obvious areas for such types of things. And these are places where we have the food basket of the nation. So, technically, there was no way we could avoid the clash. But as I said earlier, at least we should have thought ahead. And if not thinking ahead, for now, we should insist on the establishment of ranches. But if you establish ranches, you must also understand that these things are not sudden. There are processes to educate people more on the question of ranches. And the transition period is such that people will understand that from this movement to the next, they will be able to transform from one thing to the other. But if you decree immediately that let it be, I think we will create more problem. So, we need very serious period of education and period to allow people to actually imbibe this newer and civilized culture of herding of cattle.
Do you agree with Bauchi State Gov that the Livestock Programme will also take care of herders who are not Nigerians?
I think making such type of statements, first he is trying to make sure that they can arrive at a peaceful accommodation of those people. But first of all, he must also tell us whether they are nationals of different countries, which country, so that you can hold people responsible. We must learn to take care of our people before we talk of outsiders. Even this question of nationals of other countries, I’m not comfortable with that because I see some certain hidden agenda from Boko Haram using this cattle issue as an absorbing matter. They are looking for ways of getting into the system, not in terms of fighting again but to be able to find a living space because they have been so reduced by the nature of what the federal security agents have done. Some of these things we are even facing in the Middle Belt and in other parts of the country are not necessarily issues of herders. The traditional herder we see does not carry AK 47. Even if he does, he will not use it in the way people are using it because the basic area you’re feeding your cattle is your livelihood zone and you would not want to create a problem there. But the type of infiltration these days is terrible. When there are clashes, it’s not impossible that some of these people are invited to also assist in fighting. But a different faction of them is now trying to get themselves integrated into the system by labeling themselves as herders from across the continent.