From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
Former Director General of Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), Paul Angya, in this interview speaks on various national issues including the failure of leadership in the country.
Nigeria recently attained 61 years of Independence. How would you assess the journey so far?
We have been journeying backwards, not forward. So if you take what was good in 1960, you’ll have to go back six times before you start coming forward. I don’t know where you are going to get to before you start coming forward to put forward gear because Nigeria has been on a reverse gear. What specifically do you intend to look at? Is it in terms of security? Is it economy? Is it human development? Is it welfare of the people? Is it in terms of infrastructure? Is it in terms of industrial capacity? Is it roads? Look, I was a student in the University of Lagos between 1982 and 1983, I used to drive seven hours from here to Lagos, that is what I love doing. I was a driver for all my friends. We would leave Makurdi by 6am and by 1pm we would be in Lagos. Where would you get the roads to be in Lagos within 24 hours now? No way! It takes me four hours from Makurdi to my village in Vandeikya; it takes about two hours between Taraku and Otukpo today. I was a student at Ugbokolo (Benue State) and it used to take us forty minutes from Ugbokolo all the way to Makurdi. Now it takes two hours between Taraku and Otukpo, so what do you want us to look at specifically? I really want to assess Nigeria, even in the comity of nations, what have we achieved? Nigeria is on the blacklist of every country. If they are blacklisting countries for Covid-19, HIV, 419, drug trafficking; anything, Nigeria is number one on that list and I can tell you that we are not the worst, but we are the worst in terms of governance. South Africa is the worst in terms of criminality globally, but they are not on those lists because they have an accountable government. If you go to Ghana, in fact they have Nigerian passports; all the thieves in Ghana use Nigerian passport. But that is where all international donor agencies are based for the whole of West Africa. What I can say is that, it’s leadership that makes it different. Look at America, just about 11 months back, America was the most hated nation but just because of a change in leadership, America has come back and their economy is doing well. But the problem is how do we get a good leader? We all had hope that Buhari was going to be our messiah. So, there is nothing to celebrate, anybody who tells you anything positive in the last six years is a liar. Nigeria is just a feeding ground for international vultures, all of them are here but they are just feeding on our carcass.
How do you feel about President Buhari trying to revive the grazing routes at this time?
I don’t want to discuss President Buhari’s government. Honestly, I don’t want to discuss Buhari and honestly, it takes a lot of self-control not to be disrespectful when you discuss that government. It’s like they have their head upside down. The whole country is in tatters, the economy has collapsed, we are living on thin air; this thing can open up anytime; we are in a hopeless situation. I’m telling you, your N100 million cannot take you beyond the borders of his country, it is useless. This thing has happened within four or five years, so you can’t even take out one single item. But this grazing routes, because it affects us personally; our way of life is farming, so we feel it terribly but these people have destroyed everything. No one has his way of life in this country, except conmen. In this 21st century, no serious human being, not even in my village, even before Governor Ortom came up with the anti-open grazing of animals; they had already prohibited roaming of animals in my village more than 20 years ago. These are people who know that their way of life is farming and it is mutually exclusive with wild roaming of animals. If you go to my village, if a goat is roaming, they will grab it and take it to the tax collector. But a president in the 21st Century is advocating for open grazing routes. Where are you going to pass? Are you going to come here and destroy my house? Are you going to bring a pay loader and bring down this house because 100 years ago, somebody’s cattle passed this way? How are you going to do it? Is that not crazy? So look, that man is a no-brainer, he is a non-starter, he is not going anywhere.
Federal Government continues to borrow. How do you react to that?
What are they borrowing against? That is the point. They don’t even have any collateral. When you borrow, you must borrow against something, you must put something down against it so that your lender will look at it. What those people are looking at before giving them money is just the patrimony of this country and at the end of the day, we have nothing to repay. This is a non-productive economy; we don’t generate anything. When you don’t produce, you can’t base your currency against any value, so the Naira keeps running away, then you borrow again, you keep printing money. We are like a park of cards; that is where we are going. So what is the repayment plan? The money they are borrowing, what are they doing with it and what are the projects? What are the proposals and what have they done with the ones they borrowed in the past six years? Mind you, Obasanjo took us out of the Paris Club in 8 years; we had an accumulated debt, he was able to repay all the debts and was able to accumulate. I am not saying he was a good president but as bad as he was, he was able to do this and within 6 years, you run down whatever was accumulated for you, you will also run higher than what we came out of before and we don’t know where you are going to end and a good number of people in this country including educated people are not bothered so long as they are sharing in what is coming. A lot of them don’t give their children Naira again; it is dollar because they know the Naira is useless. When I sent my children to school, we were paying about N1.5 million Naira for a year; school fees of about $10,000 dollars and now they say $10,000 dollars is about N8 million naira; $10, 000 dollars that was about 1.5 million, is about N8 million now and that is just one semester. So how many people can do that now? Except you are in Buhari’s government or you are participating in the robbery of this country.
You are contesting for the governorship of Benue state on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). May we know what you are bringing to the table?
I think basically, it is where I’m coming from, my education and work experience. I worked at Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON). It was our responsibility to supervise and nurture industries throughout the country and that means being responsible for everything that is produced, that is created by the human hand, subject to inspection, supervision and development. Therefore, we are responsible for nurturing industries for economic development to impact the lives of people and that has given me the opportunity to visit all industries in this country. It was also my responsibility as a Legal Adviser and Secretary to the Board, to certify industries for their continued existence and so, everything that is produced in this country down to agricultural produce and even bottled water is subject to standardization and quality regulation conformity. And because we produce very little in this country, we import mostly into this country. I also had the opportunity to visit virtually every country of industrial concern that was doing business with Nigeria globally. So, I have global exposure to economic development and National improvement.
Secondly, the peculiar situation we have in Benue of a pervasive insecurity, it perverts every aspect of our lives, has bungled many attempts at development and it is fundamental in making progress in any way. Perhaps, I’m the only one who is coming to the table with security training as a background because I’ve been trained by government at the Institute for Security Studies. I’m a fellow of the security Institute and that’s a privilege for only top Security Chiefs in this country. I went to that training and I’m capacitated to be able to tackle our security challenges based on my knowledge and integration into the security apparatchik of the country.
And so, given this backgrounds and then of course as a lawyer, I should be able to strengthen the law that is already in existence by our Governor (Samuel Ortom), trying to tackle the security challenge of herdsmen terrorists and I should also be able to network with the existing National Security apparatchik to address security challenges because you know the state government or governor has not got any security enforcement agency, neither can he direct national agencies. And until you are patched into that network, you cannot do it. And the purpose for that institute which I attended is to patch the security apparatchik of this country together and then bring people from National Intelligence Agency, DSS, Police, Customs, Immigration and so on to study always for a one-year period so that they can fuse together and in the event of a security situation, they can easily tap because not one single agency can solve security issues. It’s supposed to be a corporative thing. That’s the essence and that’s the background from which I’m coming. So, I’m coming to the table with a capacity that none of my co-aspirants is coming with.
So far the number of aspirants in your party are about 27, if those from other parties are added together, we will be talking of over 50 aspirants.
But you talked about merit, are you saying there is need to jettison the issue of zoning?
As a person, I’ve never been an apostle of zoning. I think that leadership should emerge through a process that is objective, that is standard, that is verifiable; leadership should emerge through that process. However, I live in a society that thinks that zoning is not mutually exclusive with merit. Zoning is a peculiar system or procedure that has been adopted in our society to address issues of equality or inequality and patronage. So, I understand that and also that some societies think that it should be survival of the fittest
Perhaps, some lions will continue to eat at the expense of others and so they created the system where opportunities are given to different sections at every election cycle and it’s not just for elections they try to do that; that’s why we have the Federal Character Commission. The constitution of this country also tries to ensure equal access to opportunities but then, I will underline it or qualify it that even when you do zoning, care should be taken to make sure that the candidate that emerges from that zone should be qualified, to fit the criteria for that office. It shouldn’t just be that because it’s the turn of this zone, then you will hang it on the treetop, no. I also know that from every area of this country, from every area of Benue State, there are people who are minimally qualified to occupy the office of governor or any other office. So, opportunity should be given for the best from that area to emerge. So, that is my qualification for the practice of zoning. My personal feeling is that you shouldn’t become a governor just because of where you come from or what language you speak. Just because you speak Tiv or Idoma language shouldn’t be a qualification to be a governor. You should come to the table with better qualification because of what you are and who you are, what you know and what you can do, what you’ve done. That’s why the white man looks at your pedigree; they want to know where you’re coming from because where you are coming from is an indication of where you are going to. So, we may not completely discard zoning because I am not in a position to do that but we must attach to zoning a criterion that enables the best from the rest areas to take over leadership because when they do, the challenges of leadership are beyond speaking in tribal languages. So, that is my notion about zoning.
The Anti open grazing law is the bill of this present government and there are other people who are recently advocating for the law to be made more effective; that there should be ranches in the three senatorial districts. What’s your take on this?
I think they are making sense. We applaud the concept of the Anti-open grazing law and we can always improve on what is being done. Right now, it is proudly the best solution in the circumstances and you can see that all the states in the federation are copying it. But certainly nothing is perfect. From my own background as a standardization and quality expert, you can never come to a point when quality improvement comes to a stop. They say quality is journey without an end, anytime you think you have met the target, the goal post shifts. Look at where we are globally and this is just when technology is starting. I would have thought that we’ve come to the end.
I mean somebody made a car about 20 years ago, they called it end of discussion; today that car is a relic and that’s a fact of life. The fact that this law is good doesn’t mean that it can’t be improved upon and truthfully speaking of prescribing ranching, then you must provide ranches. That’s the truth of the matter. If you don’t provide ranches, then you’re just setting people up for a fall. We have existing ranches in this country.
You can see visionary leadership since 1980 or 1981 when Aper Aku set up ranches in this state. There are two ranches, one in Ikyogen, another in Raav wildlife park near Apir here. Those ranches are lying idle there and that’s a huge loss. The problem we have is that right now, the government has a policy of privatizing state institutions and so you can’t ask the same government that is trying to privatise state agencies to go ahead and establish ranches. But what the state government can do is create an enabling environment for the private sector. I don’t know the full bill of government’s proposal to privatize commercial agencies; I don’t know whether Ikyogen is one of them, but I do know that the revival of that ranch and its existing status can help to foster the anti-open grazing law. Even though I agree with these people that we should have ranches, what I cannot prescribe because I’m not in government and I don’t preside over resources, so I cannot say government should establish ranches but there are ranches which can be revived and in line with government’s commercialization policy. Right now, I believe that those ranches could be leased or sold out. There are global concepts, as I was telling you about my training with the Institute; one of the global issues that we dealt with the year I went for training in 2017 was a global issue of farmers and herdsmen; global within the African context because Europeans have gone beyond open grazing centuries ago. But within Africa, you have the same situation in Nigeria, Ghana; you have it in East Africa, when you go to Nairobi, you’re driving, you see cattle, you see them herding their cattle, they are almost half naked on the street. If you go to Uganda, Rwanda, you have these same issues but they’ve been able to introduce ranches and they have been able to hedge in their cattle and ranching is an integrated business, including beef processing, packaging and export. And so, it’s a very big business not just this notion that you just hedge cattle into a space and feed them. So, they took us to Ghana to understudy the system, where they have been able to solve the problem of farmers and herders. In Uganda and Rwanda, we saw this and it can be done here. So, I think part of the next step will be how the government is going to enable the establishment; first of all, revival of existing ranches because we have one or two wildlife that are existing and to enable the establishment of more ranches.