From Rose Ejembi, Makurdi
National Treasurer of the Middle Belt Forum, Ben Akaakar and the leader of the Mzough-U-Tiv socio cultural group in Port Harcourt in this interview has stressed the need to have a country that works for all Nigerians. He spoke on various national issues.
Year 2020 was full of ups and downs across the world with the ravaging effects of COVID-19, high level of insecurity, recession and the rest of them. As we enter into the year 2021, what is your advice to the Federal Government and the Nigerian masses in the new year?
First, if you take a review of the year 2020, you will discover that it was a special year; the year that the famous seer, Michelle Nostrodemus called the twin year and there were several predictions which went nearly as foretold. The global effect of COVID-19 that started from China, hitting Mainland Europe, ravaging America and parts of Africa and claiming so much casualties. It created a big blow on the national economy of countries. Particularly in Nigeria, we have felt the effect so much. Nothing has come out of 2020 that has affected the economy of the world more than the COVID-19 that was also branded as a pandemic. This resulted to new ways of doing things in our interactions and communication. And then, here in Nigeria, the pent up anger, animosity and frustration of the people was captured aptly by the youths who came up with the EndSars protest. That also had its ravaging effect in Nigeria which was similar to the George Floyd’s #Blacklifematters in America. In the last quarter of 2020, government had to officially declare an economic recession in the country because of the activities on the world economy. Upon all these, God has been merciful to us and has taken us through. So, for the year 2020, for me, we should be grateful to God first of all for taking us through and we should congratulate ourselves for surviving the twin year and the challenges therein.
The level of insecurity seems to be soaring higher in this country which has made many prominent Nigerians to call for the sack of security chiefs. What is your take on this?
On the issue of insecurity, the Middle Belt Forum and its Southern partners; the South East, South South and South West have been making stringent calls on the Federal Government to restructure the Nigerian federation so that we will operate a true physical federalism where the federating units are independent. We will do a bottom up economic model where the regions would have control of their resources and send something up to the center rather than the center taking all the resources and then just giving whatever they feel like giving to the regions. I think that call is ripe for implementation in 2021. As we look forward in 2021, we look out for a new and restructured Nigeria where people take control of the resources in their respective regions to take care of their people, their land and their environment.
Do you think it is right for the President to still be keeping the security chiefs till now?
I associate myself with all the calls for the restructuring of the security architecture. It is part of the problems that need to be tackled for Nigeria to move forward. The skewed appointments by the Buhari led government have resulted into so many anomalies. There has been a breakdown of security right at the community level to the state level, to the national level with nobody being able to take care of his own environment. That is why the call by the Middle Belt Forum and its other regional partners for a restructured federation is becoming louder and louder.
2023 is just by the corner. Where do you think the presidency should come from?
Before we even go to the presidency, we even think that the presidential system we are operating now is faulty and has outlived its usefulness. And that’s why we are calling for restructuring. Whether the leader at the national level is President and so on, if we restructure Nigeria where the powers evolve from bottom up, it would no longer be too important where the president comes from. First, in a presidential system of government, we should be talking of people who have capacity and exposure to rule. The present government has shown so much lack of capacity to tackle issues whether you call them economic issues, its lack of capacity. Not for want of people but deliberately overlooking the people to talk in terms of security. We have capacity but it has been ignored for a preferred segment of people skewed in one direction. When you talk of social relations or social contract with the people where the social welfare of the people is considered, those with capacity to function, those who can head public parastatals, those who can head even private institutions, those with the skills and ability to do are being overlooked, whereby it is being segmented that you must come from a certain place or you must be recommended and so on. That is the bane of the society now and these are things that a restructured federation will look into. Even the infrastructure that we do not have, we have people with the requisite capacity and skills to build them for us but because these people come from areas they feel nobody should be patronised or selected, they are being overlooked. And that is why we are here. There is nothing wrong about Nigeria that we do not have people with capacity to do. The question is, are we ready to put the round pegs in round holes and square pegs in square holes? That is the issue that Nigeria is faced with and we think a restructured federation will attempt to answer most of these challenges.
As a staunch member of the Middle Belt Forum, what role is your forum playing to ensure the right crops of leaders emerge in 2023?
For us in the Middle Belt Forum, 2023 is not even a magic year. The pitfalls that we have now such as the herdsmen challenge, the issue of Miyetti Allah coming out brazenly to claim that their people have murdered or eliminated or ransacked communities because maybe, they rustled their cattle or they did some things that are not acceptable to them. And none of them has been arrested or brought to book. And they continue to claim territories that do not belong to them with the native people who own the land being murdered in cold blood. As long as these things continue unchecked by the federal or state government or even by the local government or the traditional institution, 2023 will not bring a magical solution. We must first address these fundamental hiccups in the society, then whatever system of government we agree on that going forward in 2023, will be what evolves out of what the people want. It’s easy especially in this era of social media communication to get a consensus of opinions and know what will work for most Nigerians to do this. 2023 as far as the issue of governance is concerned, the Middle Belt Forum is for getting people with the right capacity and exposure, people who are still very strong and agile. We do not want people who are old and almost quarter to go. We do not want people who will lead us to our early graves. The situation in most African communities is deplorable. Nigeria should not be part of it. We need to evolve a crop of new leaders with fresh ideas, agile, dynamic, young, people who are not leading us to our early graves but who are leading us to our desired destinations. That is what the Middle Belt Forum stands for. And as President of one of the prominent alumni associations in Benue, I have initiated a move where alumni associations of various institutions come together and share ideas starting with education because we believe that if we get it right in education, it will go a long way in solving so many other things. So, we initiated such a move and we are talking with sister alumni associations and we are consulting so that we can have a formidable group that will help to evolve new ideas and new strategies for educational advancement as far as Benue is concerned. I believe it will go a long way in correcting some of the societal ills. The education we have now where we are producing so many graduates out of our institutions with little or no skills to stand on their own, that education is not working for us. It is not working for the good of the community, the government and the industry. We need to overhaul our systems so that they will produce people with requisite skills that are needed to move our society forward.
While the Middle Belt Forum has continued to insist that it is not part of the North, the North Central Peoples Forum believes otherwise. Can you tell us where the Middle Belt truly stands?
They are all part of the hiccups in the society. It is a very difficult matter with divergent interests. People go to where their interests are being nurtured. People go to where they feel they can eke out their own living or meet their needs. Because of this, there are groups that exploit these differences instead of exploiting them in a positive manner to advance the society, they want to exploit them in a divisive manner to bring us down.
As one of Benue’s prominent sons, we understand that your people are calling you to contest the governorship election in 2023. Can you tell us if you have heard the call and under what party are you planning to contest?
The call to contest for a political position is not new. It’s germane. People will always call activists like us to come and contest. And if we are serious, we should also consider those calls very seriously to serve our society. And in serving, we hope to evolve a new paradigm of service that will give the society a new lease of life. I’m considering the call of my people very carefully and I’m in consultations also to come out and I will soon make my stance known. Which platform I’m going to use will also be made know at the appropriate time. For now, high stake consultations are on.